If you were cast as the villain in a horrific string of cat mutilations by the media, sent hate mail and death threats, and forced to live under house arrest for 18 months while your family spends thousands upon thousands of dollars defending you in court... do you think you'd be just a little teed off to discover that the people so eager to make a case against you had no idea what they were talking about?
Yeah, me too.
In the case of Tyler Weinman, charges were quickly dropped once it was determined that eight of the 19 cats he had been accused of mutilating had actually been killed by dogs (the other 11 had already been destroyed and could not be tested), but even if you put lost time and money aside, it is still light years away from a no harm, no foul scenario. The accusations will follow Weinman around forever, and there are people out there who will go to their graves convinced he is a cat killer -- because he wasn't "serious" enough in court, because they need a villain to hiss at, or simply because they read it on the Internet. Just enter "Tyler Weinman" into Google and see what it suggests. Pandora's box has been opened.
But really, when you think about it, Weinman was actually lucky: given the anger and sensationalism surrounding this story, can you imagine how it would have turned out if his dad didn't have the money to hire a good defense team? I certainly don't want to.
It could have been much, much worse. So it should come as no surprise that Weinman is suing Miami-Dade County and the ASPCA for negligence leading to his false arrest.
Sara Pizano, the Animal Services director who determined 19 cats had been killed by a person, is also named in the lawsuit, as is the University of Florida, Melinda Merck's former employer (Merck is the ASPCA’s director of veterinary forensic sciences). It is chilling to consider the fact that Merck signed off on Pizano's opinion without even seeing any of the bodies herself -- isn't that supposed to be her area of expertise? Is her animal abuse proof-o-meter set at a "This kid is weird and smirks a lot; he is clearly guilty" level? (Or perhaps "This dog owner tells highly inappropriate and unfunny jokes. He must be an abuser"?)
It certainly appears that way
Of course, aside from her position of authority, Merck is in no way unique: judging from the numerous commentators still referring to Weinman as a "cat killer," there are a lot of people out there who believe they are capable of determining guilt without actually seeing any evidence.