CROWN POINT | While the Lake County Sheriff's attorney John Bushemi did not respond last week to queries about the use of warrants in impounding animals, a seasoned criminal attorney said warrants are not necessary to rescue distressed animals in plain view.
"If an officer sees a crime being committed in plain view, they do not need to go to a magistrate for a search warrant to stop the crime," said the attorney, who asked not to be identified because of his association with county government.
At issue is whether a warrant was necessary to seize a family of pit bulls from a Calumet Township property, which led to the recent firing of longtime animal control employee Victoria Beasley.
"Number one, a search warrant is issued to conduct a search, which means you're going to go into a house," the local attorney said. "To stop a crime in their presence, an officer does not need a search warrant."
Beasley contends the dogs were seized properly under the current ordinance, which permits warrantless inspections of buildings or other structures.
The ordinance also states, "an animal control officer may petition for a judicial warrant authorizing entry, search, and/or seizure."
The adult dogs, who were chained outdoors to two trees, were seized after owners were found not in compliance with the ordinance, and there were further complaints from neighbors, Beasley said at the time of her firing.
Beasley said she was fired for not obeying a direct order to return the dogs to the owners after she was told a warrant had been needed.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said she was fired for cause.
Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said the authority for animal control was handed to the Sheriff's Department several years ago.
"We were having so much trouble,"he said. "We had no authority to go into houses."
"It's worked well," he said. "We haven't had any complaints."
Scheub said he doesn't know if any changes to the ordinance are planned to clarify the question of when warrants are required.
"We really don't know what happened," Scheub said of Beasley's firing. "(The sheriff) doesn't have to come and tell me what happened. It's his authority given to him by us."