Mom lost her ‘tight grip’ as dogs snatched son

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The mother of a 4-year-old boy killed by a pack of pit bulls recounted the shocking attack on her son who was pulled from her grip during a morning of emotional testimony Monday in the trial of the dogs’ owner.

Lucillie Strickland testified about walking with her son, Xavier, to a nearby school when he was pulled from her hands by three of the dogs and dragged to the animals’ backyard where a fourth dog joined in the fatal mauling of the child Dec. 2.

Xavier Strickland, who weighed 28 pounds, was grabbed from the mom’s clutches by the dogs and pulled Xavier to a gate to the backyard and under a fence of a home near the Lodge Freeway service drive and Baylis.

“The dogs grabbed his leg and started yanking him ... pulling him,” Strickland said. “I was trying to pull back. I tried to have a tight grip. I just couldn’t. I could just grab a shoe. When they got to the gate, I was still trying to grab him.”

The mom said she ran around the corner for help.

Strickland saying her child was inside the backyard with the dogs mauling him. She said he was screaming “Help me mommy ... help me mommy ... help me.”

Strickland said she also suffered bites from the dogs on her ears, leg and back, but didn’t seek treatment until about a month later.

The homeowner and the owner of the dogs, Geneke Antonio Lyons, is on trial for second-degree murder, manslaughter and also for possession dangerous animals.

Strickland testified another one of her children, a 10-year-old daughter, was attacked by the dogs last September. Strickland said she initially had believed the girl was bitten but later found out she wasn’t. The mother said she didn’t report it and didn’t notify the dog’s owner about the incident. She said the dogs grabbed her daughter’s school backpack, which contained a lot of books.

She said both of her daughters and both of her sons would walk through fields to get to school because “they were terrified” of the dogs.

Defense attorneys tried to attack Strickland’s credibility, asking her why she told police the girl had been bitten and had been taken to the hospital for the bites. Strickland said she previously gave information, including that she had reported the incident to animal control officers, and she wasn’t thinking clearly in the days shortly after Xavier’s horrific death.

“I made a mistake ... did not mean it,” Strickland said. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. My mind was focused on getting things together for my (dead) son.”

An exchange between Strickland and defense attorney Francisco Villarruel became heated when he asked her about filing a civil lawsuit in the case not long after the attack.

“Why would that matter?,” Lucillie asked. “What does that have to do with my son being dead ... with my son being in the ground?”

Also testifying Monday were police officers and an evidence technician for the Detroit Police Department who were part of the investigation. Evidence tech Shana Simmon said there were gaps, some nearly 9 inches in depth, in the fencing that surrounded the home and the backyard where the dogs were seen. There also was an area where the dogs had dug a hole under the gate surrounding the dog run area, Simmon testified.

Three of the dogs were found shot to death, by police, in areas not far from the Baylis home. One was taken in and quarantined before it was euthanized.

One of the officers who responded to the mauling in December testified Lyons was visibly upset about what had happened with the child.

Lyons was arrested shortly after Xavier died.

Simmon and the officer in charge of the investigation testified they did not see dog toys at the house or in dog run area. Detective Gary Przybyla, testified he did not see photographs of the dogs or licenses for them inside the home.

The trial began last week and is expected to wrap up this week. Last week, the jury made up mostly of women saw the gruesome and graphic video of the attack on the child. The video was taken from surveillance cameras outside Lyons’ home.

Lyons’ attorney said he took care to make sure the animals did not get out of their pen and backyard by installing double fencing around his home. But the prosecutor pointed out there was a seven-inch gap in the fencing. Lyons’ attorney said the dogs were pets and was a family of a father and mother dog along with their puppies.

Testimony in the trial continues Tuesday.

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