Man's best friend [Commentary]

Montgomery County Judge Richard E. Jordan was so appalled by the actions of former Baltimore Police Officer Alec Taylor that he went outside sentencing guidelines to order the man committed to jail for a year — four times the maximum recommendation of three months.

Mr. Taylor's crime? Beating a dog to death.

The facts of the case are pretty horrific. The officer pummeled "Rocko," a tiny Jack Russell terrier, with a mop, choked him and left him lying on the floor all because the pup had soiled a rug. Mr. Taylor then sent a girlfriend a series of unemotional text messages about the beating, including this one: "Yeah I think he's pretty much dead. Imma throw him out now."

We certainly don't question the judge's outrage over the incident. But we do wonder why similar outrage is so often lacking when the victim is a person.

Witness the string of costly settlements Baltimore City has paid out to people who say they were beaten up by police — charges that drew so little interest from those in authority that for years no one bothered to track which officers faced such civil suits. And it took a public shaming, in the form of a video release, to get the city police department to suspend (with pay) Officer Victor Cosom recently, two months after he was recorded on duty raining punches on a man near a city bus stop.

Meanwhile, two Baltimore officers accused in the slitting of a Shar-Pei's throat — Jeffrey Bolger and Thomas Schmidt — were removed from duty within a week of the June 14th incident and criminally charged by the end of that month.

It seems nothing brings out indignation like abuse against an animal, more so even than abuse of a child, who many still believe is spoiled if the rod (or tree branch, in the case of Viking Adrian Peterson) is spared.

Some would say that's because of the inherently innocent nature of the beast, supposedly all instinct and no malice. The Sun is flooded with letters to the editor in defense of dogs whenever we write about a pit bull, whether it's one that was attacked (like "Phoenix," who was set on fire for sport in 2009) or one who did the attacking (like the pit bull who mauled a boy and led the state's high court to controversially rule in 2012 that the animals were "inherently dangerous"). A recent story about a feral feline removed from a school brought out calls from cat lovers to protect such wild animals and alternate calls from bird loves to round them all up.

But how do we make sense of Officer Taylor's sentence in a world where former Ravens football player Ray Rice receives probation before judgment for knocking out his child's mother? Or where two correctional officers who assaulted a female inmate had most of their 10-year sentences suspended in 2012 by Baltimore Judge Wanda K. Heard so that they were only required to serve 18 months — half a year longer than the puppy killer?

It may just come down to the particular personality or prejudices of the judge. Judge Jordan is apparently an animal person, whereas some others may be more likely to err on the side of second chances for defendants.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Timothy Doory, for example, gave two former Baltimore police officers sentences of probation before judgment last year for picking up and dumping two West Baltimore teens — one without shoes or a cell phone — in unfamiliar territory far from home. In 2011, he suspended all but six days of a high school wrestler's 10-year sentence for breaking the jaw of a Towson University student. And the year before that, he suspended the 20-year sentence of a troubled young mother who admitted starving her son to death at the direction of a cult leader.

We understand that those cases have no bearing on Officer Taylor's and that each had its own set of mitigating circumstances. We're not saying they were necessarily decided incorrectly. What we are saying is that while the mistreatment of animals is bad, the mistreatment of humans is as bad — if not worse.

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