Dog owner to be tried in Detroit girl's mauling death

The 33-year-old Detroit man whose three dogs mauled a 9-year-old southwest Detroit girl to death was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for second-degree murder and other charges.

At the end of Pierre Cleveland's preliminary hearing in 36th District Court, Judge Michael Wagner bound him over for trial in the deadly attack on Emma Hernandez. The child was killed by Cleveland's pit bulls Aug. 19 as she rode her bike in an alley connecting her home on Florida Street with Cleveland's on Central.

Pierre Cleveland, left, sits with his defense attorney, Emmett Greenwood, during his preliminary exam in front of 36th District Court Judge Michael Wagner, Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 18, 2019

Beside the murder count, Cleveland will be tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter and having dangerous animals causing death.

On Wednesday, a neighbor whose son was among those who tried to save Emma  from the dogs testified about the attack.

"I saw the dogs run up to her and jump on her," said Luz Cruz, who cried as her testimony was translated into English by an interpreter. "I saw the dogs attack the girl, grab her by the leg and start eating her."

Cruz said she had seen Cleveland's dogs loose before looking for food. Cruz said she was going to the store one day with her grandchildren before when the dogs came up and jumped on her car.

 "The kids were screaming," she said.

During the first day of Cleveland's preliminary exam last month, Cruz's ex-son-in-law testified about the dogs being loose and trying to attack him as he left for work.

In addition to Luz Cruz's testimony, an hour-long videotape of an interview of

Cleveland conducted by Detroit Police investigator James Kraszewski was shown to the judge.

In the video, Cleveland, who has no previous criminal record, is shown crying about the attack, saying at one point, "there goes my life" and expressing worry about going to jail.

Cleveland said he left the dogs in the yard Aug. 19 because "I didn't think they would get out."

The video shows him putting his head down and crying as he described arriving home that day, learning from a neighbor about the attack and watching other neighbors perform CPR on Emma.

Family photo of  dog-mauling victim Emma Hernandez.

Cleveland said he was in pain "because of that little girl" and said he was shocked that his dogs attacked her, even though one of them had shown aggression in the past.

He said he had put up a board and some bricks to stop the dogs from getting out but admitted that the dogs still jumped over the fence and dug holes beneath the fence.

"It's my fault," Cleveland said during the interview. "It's my dogs, man. My dogs did this."

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Barbara Lanning said Cleveland created "a high risk of harm" by leaving the dogs unrestrained and unsupervised for more than two hours.

"It is no surprise to anyone that we're in a situation where there are previous incidents where the dogs (are) barking at children, the dogs frequently escaping the backyard and the defendant knowing that these dogs are aggressive," she said. "The situation like this one where ... Emma Hernandez is doing nothing but riding a bike, being a child behind her own home, when she's attacked by the defendant's dogs."

Defense attorney Emmett Greenwood said his client was shocked by the fatal attack on the child.

"This is a tragic set of mistakes," said Greenwood. "My client had no reason to believe that his dogs would ever do this. He took necessary steps ... he did remedial steps to fix his fence line. He put buttresses as far as bricks and boards to make sure that those dogs don't escape. Also, he filled in the holes to make sure they don't go under."

Wagner said Cleveland had been previously warned that his dogs were getting out of his backyard.

"He knew the dogs could get out and over (the fence)  and had evidence that the dogs were getting out that's why he was filling in the hole," said Wagner. 

"You have a duty to not allow these things to happen," the judge told Cleveland.

"People in the neighborhood have a right to ride their bikes or cut their grass" without fear of the dogs getting out and attacking them, the judge said.

Cleveland was scheduled for an arraignment on information Oct. 16 in Wayne County Circuit Court.

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