RIVERSIDE COUNTY CA - 2003 - A BABYSITTER RECEIVES MAXIMUM SENTENCE IN FATAL PIT BULL MAULING OF 2-YEAR-OLD SOMER CLUGSTON
A Riverside County judge delivered a maximum one-year jail sentence Friday and strongly reprimanded a baby-sitter who ran errands while her PIT BULLl fatally mauled a 2-year-old girl she had left unattended.
"It's astonishing to me that people would keep certain types of pets around children," Superior Court Judge Albert J. Wojcik told Jackie Star Batey, 30, of Good Hope. "It's equally bewildering that a baby-sitter would leave a 2-year-old around the pet.... The mere fact you put the girl and others in danger means you are not a good mother. You're an awful mother."
When Batey's defense attorney asked if her jail time could begin after Christmas, Wojcik interrupted, saying, "No, she's going today."
Batey pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in October as part of an agreement with the Riverside County district attorney to have a felony child endangerment charge dropped. In addition to the jail sentence, Batey was fined nearly $1,000 and will be placed on three years' probation upon her release.
Wojcik stipulated that Batey won't be able to supervise children or keep dogs or other animals "with a propensity to wildness" during her probation.
The judge's scolding of Batey was praised by Riverside County prosecutor John Monterosso and relatives of the victim, Somer Clugston.
"It was pretty harsh," said Sarah Serrano, 23, Somer's mother. "I don't know that I'd call her a horrible mother, but she had horrible judgment that cost my daughter her life."
Somer was killed June 20. Batey left the home to drop off one of her four children for school and to run errands while Somer's 1-year-old brother, Matthew, and Batey's husband, Marco, slept. Somer was watching television when Batey left.
The 2-year-old wandered into the frontyard, where the pit bull, Baby Boy, attacked her. Somer was found lying in the yard with the dog still on top of her. The dog was euthanized.
Sarah Serrano said that she and her husband, Jason Clugston, had been separated about two months at the time, and had agreed to have custody of their children on alternate days.
Batey, a daughter of Jason Clugston's uncle, said she was starting a day care and volunteered her services to Clugston.
"I had never met Batey," Serrano said. "My husband took Somer over there. ... He said he had taken the kids there, and that they'd be safe."
Batey's attorney said in court Friday that Batey hadn't wanted to bring her four children and the Clugstons' with her as she drove her daughter to school, because she thought it would be unsafe to drive with six children in the vehicle.
The attorney said that as Batey backed out of her home, one of her daughters ran out begging to go with them. The attorney said Batey did not look back to see if the girl had left the front door open. More than two hours later, Marco Batey called 911 to report the mauling.
Justin Collinsworth, Somer's uncle, said he and other family members have been deeply angered by what they perceive as Jackie Batey's lack of remorse.
"She seemed more worried about the dog and if she was going to jail than about the death of Somer," Collinsworth said. "We're Christian. We would've forgiven her, but even the probation officer is saying she needs to serve time to reflect on what she did. She puts on a sob show in the courtroom, but she knew how aggressive that dog was."
Monterosso said the probation report revealed Batey had known that the dog had bitten two children and a horse. The report recommended an eight-month jail sentence.
Serrano, who is eight months' pregnant, urged a maximum sentence, saying, "I'll never get to see my baby go off and get married. I've been robbed of that."
Batey looked at Serrano while addressing the judge, saying, "I am very, very sorry.... I loved that little girl."
Heather Moorhead, Batey's attorney, said a jail sentence would "do no one any good."
But an angry Wojcik said, "This should not have occurred." Pounding his fist on his desk, he pointed to a quote in the probation report. Batey, the judge said, "says, 'Honestly, I think I have been punished enough.' Miss Batey, wake up and smell the coffee. Your punishment is of little consequence when compared to Somer's."
Somer's family has written state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) and Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R- Murrieta), asking them to consider sponsoring legislation to address public possession of dangerous dog breeds. Hollingsworth and a spokesman for Haynes said they will not introduce such legislation.
Hollingsworth said, "Irresponsible people will find a way to train dogs in an irresponsible way, no matter what Sacramento does ... the best legal response to this is hopefully a harsh sentence."
Somer's mother said she wants a "Somer's law" that would require an owner of a dog that bites someone once to immediately notify neighbors, and would require the dog's removal if any requested it.