The credibility of Lawrence A. Draus, the key witness in a criminal case against a animal rescue owner, continues to dog prosecutors and is expected to be the centerpiece of the defense when trial commences later this year.
An investigator with the Cook County animal crimes unit, Draus was arrested and indicted on a federal extortion charge in March, just days after he had testified against Dawn Hamill, the owner of .
Draus contributed to and then led a search warrant that , and netted Hamill dozens of charges of animal cruelty and owner's neglect.
A federal indictment alleges that from an informant posing as a trafficker for contraband cigarettes.
He has also been named in two pending civil rights cases, filed in early 2010 and late 2011, regarding the methods by which certain officers obtained search warrants and charged people for crimes against animals.
In the older one, a Chicago couple who was arrested and later acquitted is seeking damages from Draus and Tyra Brown, another county investigator.
The lawsuit alleges that Draus, on Brown’s word, without having seen the puppies or their cages, signed an affidavit in support of searching the couple’s home. Instead of the deplorable conditions the warrant described, officers found a “well-nourished, healthy, safe, warm and secure conditions” but arrested the couple anyhow, according to the complaint.
In April, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan upheld the basis for the lawsuit, noting that the officers may have intentionally misled the county judge who signed the search warrant.
“Assuming, as the Court must, that these facts are true,” she wrote, “a reasonable officer arguably would have known that he was violating Plaintiffs’ rights.”
Hamill’s case may not be so clear cut because the search warrant for her home—as well as the state’s attorney’s subsequent investigation—relied on the eyes and ears of witnesses other than Draus.
In March, prosecutors called five people, some of whom volunteer at the Animal Welfare League and were present during the raid, and to verify the media he took at Hamill’s home of sick and dead animals.
Draus’ arrest , and a new judge was eventually . But prosecutors won a minor victory on Tuesday when Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled that there had been sufficient cause to search Hamill’s home—even if Draus’ word was excluded. An informant, known in paperwork as “J. Doe,” vouched before a county judge that some of Hamill’s animals were being neglected.
Prosecutors have elected to first pursue 10 charges in connection with eight sick puppies, a dead cat and a dead miniature horse.
Hamill’s attorney, Purav Bhatt, contends that medical records for the puppies, which an employee had taken in a week before the raid, were still in the possession of Draus and could help clear her of wrongdoing. She could not have properly cared for the dogs without knowing what was wrong with them, he said.
After reviewing transcripts of previous hearings on the matter in front of another judge, however, Demacopoulos ruled that the defense has never established that the records exist. She then questioned why, if they did exist, Hamill would be excused for not having gotten copies of them from her own employee.
Bhatt was given one month to subpoena federal authorities for records on Draus, which would be useful if he was called to testify at trial and lied under oath.
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