A Jackson man whose dog attacked a young boy playing in a park last summer was found guilty Friday.
After hearing about seven hours of testimony during a bench trial, Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda found Ryan James Watts, 36, guilty of dog bites causing wounds, a misdemeanor.
Co-defendant, Sarah Celestine, 27, owned a second dog involved in the mauling. She opted not to go to trial but pleaded no contest to the same charge.
The two will be sentenced next month.
Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman said Watts’ and Celestine’s dogs viciously attacked a 4-year-old boy on Aug. 19, 2018. The child was playing with his family in Cottonwood Park.
The attack was so traumatizing that the boy is in therapy and afraid to return to his neighborhood park, his mother testified.
“This was a prolonged, repeated and vicious attack whereby a 4-year-old child sustained bites and wounds all over his entire body,” Weisman told the court during her closing argument. “Two officers told the court that the child was dragged on the ground based on the injuries. The court should convict the defendant.”
Radda sided with Weisman.
“There is no dispute this attack occurred,” Radda said. “I find you guilty, Mr. Watts.”
Irene Marquina, the vicitm’s mother, witnessed the attack and felt helpless holding a 2-year-old on her hip while trying to get the dogs off her son.
“She was sitting on a bench pretty close by, and her child went to the edge of this dried-up pond,” Kate Mead, Marquina’s attorney and employer, previously told the News&Guide.
The dogs had torn open the boy’s face by the time Marquina reached him, Mead said.
A witness heard screaming and called police, but Mead said Watts and Celestine were less than helpful.
“They came when they heard the ruckus and got their dogs,” Mead said. “They slipped in their yards and didn’t come to see if she needed help or anything.”
Testimony on Friday revealed that Celestine and friend Duncan McLaurin, not Watts, went to retrieve the dogs when they realized they had gotten out of Watts’ fenced-in backyard.
“What I recall is Sarah said the [dogs] scared a boy but that everything was fine,” Watts’ girlfriend Mallory Orr testified.
Body camera footage from Jackson police Cpl. Alex Ayling showed what happened after the attack.
Medics rushed the boy to the hospital with puncture wounds and bites on his arms, buttocks, face and legs.
Then police started looking for the house the dogs had escaped from.
After knocking on doors, officers arrived at Watts and Orr’s Corner Creek Lane house. Watts, Orr, Celestine and McLaurin all came to the door.
“Did something happen out there?” Watts asked police.
“They chewed up a kid pretty badly,” Ayling said, referring to the dogs.
Celestine gasped. Ayling asked them for their rabies records.
“If you don’t have the records I have to quarantine them at our shelter,” Ayling said.
“Did anyone see what happened?” Watts asked.
Ayling told Watts that the boy’s mother witnessed the attack and also was bitten.
Marquina testified that she was at the playground in the park with her two kids when the dogs started circling her son and started biting him.
“I started screaming for help,” she said. “They continued attacking my child. I tried pulling him close to me and that’s when I got bit on the arm.”
She said the attack didn’t end until someone called the dogs, and they ran off. She saw Celestine and McLaurin grab the dogs and go back into a fenced yard.
“Did they come help you?” Weisman asked.
“No,” Marquina said. “They walked away with their dogs.”
The dogs’ breeds weren’t mentioned during trial. Attorneys said Celestine’s dog is a husky mix and Watts’ dog is a smaller mutt.
Watts’ attorney Ed Bushnell said his client and the friends he had visiting did not know there had been a dog attack or else they would have felt compelled to help.
“A boy suffered injuries from several dog bites and scratches,” Bushnell said. “No one is denying that, and I can assure you no one feels good about it. Everyone has empathy for the boy and his mother.”
Bushnell called a veterinarian who testified one dog, Benson, had never acted vicious during visits to the clinic.
Watts did not testify.
Bushnell said the couple bought a padlock for their fence gate so the dogs can no longer escape.
Watts and Celestine are scheduled to be sentenced April 17 in circuit court.
Wyoming law is that the dogs can be destroyed and the owners fined not more than $200.00, or both.