City plans to euthanize dogs in deadly attack

Investigators believe 4 dogs went through fence, grabbed Michael Downing

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An Eastside man was told Tuesday by Animal Care and Protective Services that his four dogs are in the process of being declared dangerous by the city -- which would lead to them being humanely euthanized -- after the dogs were involved in the deadly attack of an elderly man on Friday.

Under Florida statute, Lephus Felton will be able to appeal the decision, but ACPS officials said their process of deeming the dogs dangerous is moving forward.

The man killed in the dog attack was identified by police Monday as Michael Downing, 83.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said investigators were called about 4:30 p.m. after Downing was found dead along the fence line of a home on Jessie Street.

Investigators have not released official cause of death, but animal control officials said they believe Downing died from a serious dog attack.

Investigators said they discovered a hole in the property's chain-link fence that they believe the dogs could have gotten through.

JSO homicide Sgt. Chuck Ford said it appeared that Downing had been attacked by an animal. Ford said it is unclear what Downing was doing before the attack, but he was on property along the Franklin Street apartments, which face the back of the home on Jessie Street.

All four mixed-breed dogs were taken to Animal Care and Protective Services to be evaluated. It is unknown how many of the dogs attacked the victim, Ford said.

“I've already been working with the medical examiner, and there was evidence we gathered at the scene,” ACPS Director Jim Crosby said. “The dog-related evidence has been delivered yesterday to the forensics lab at the University of Florida. They're going to be running DNA testing. There's other evidence we're looking at to try to either include or exclude any or all of the dogs in the attack.”

According to JSO reports, police have been called to the residence where the dogs were 14 times in the last five years for a variety of reasons, including an animal complaint. 

Crosby said his officers have been called to the home on Jessie Street before, and the dogs' owner could face charges ranging from a civil citation to as serious as negligent manslaughter. 

“Whatever complaints we have or statements from the neighborhood residents or other statements will factor into determining whether the dogs had exhibited potentially dangerous behavior before this incident,” Crosby said. “That factors into both the prosecution side and into the dangerous designation.”

Crosby said any criminal charges would be determined by JSO and the State Attorney’s Office.

Crosby said this type of incident is extremely rare and very saddening. He said this involves multiple victims.

“It's the worst possible type of situation, because we have a human who lost his life, and we have animals that are implicated,” Crosby said. “It's unfortunately part of the job.”

Neighbors concerned before deadly attack

Friends and neighbors said they believe Downing's death could have been prevented.

Downing's friends said he was a great person who loved life and helped others with a big smile on his face.

Friends told News4Jax Monday that they're heartbroken about what happened to him.

"He was a cool guy all the way," said Randy Hill, a friend of Downing. 

WATCH: Friends react to fatal dog attack

Downing was very popular at the Franklin Arms Apartments, where he lived for years. His neighbors, who called him "Mr. Mike" became like family. 

"Oh man. We are going to miss the heck out of Mike. We are going to miss the heck out of Mike," Hill said. 

Mackenzie Partin and Eddie Edwards said Downing wasn't even recognizable after the attack.

"Oh man. That's a horrible way to go. I couldn't imagine being mauled to death," said Edwards, who found Downing's body. "It don't look like something you want to see.”

"Not just bit on. He was eaten alive," Mackenzie Partin said. 

Felton said the dogs are trained to protect his home and they would not attack without being provoked. 

"He had to be antagonizing my dogs to be pulled under there ... even the police say, because he got pulled underneath. So he had to stick his hands under there, so that's when they grabbed him, I guess," Felton said. "My dogs ain't no vicious dogs. They're vicious to protect this yard. That's their job. It's like the police have dogs to protect them, you know? That's how they're trained."

But Downing's friend, Mark Jones, said he doesn't believe that the 100-pound man would have put his hand over the fence. Jones also said that the dogs had gotten out before and acted aggressively toward anyone who walked by.

"I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time," Jones said. "I am almost 63 years old and I have seen a lot of horrific stuff. And it was terrible, to say the least."

Neighbors said they've complained to the city before and also the dogs' owner, but nothing has been done. 
Crosby said there are an average of 30 to 32 deadly dog attacks each year in the United States.

Felton was served the papers today informing him of the city's decision to declare the dogs dangerous.

Police and the State Attorney's Office had no updates on the investigation.

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About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.