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Mom: Niagara Falls cops reacted slowly as Rottweilers mauled her son

The Rottweilers' attack started at 3:15 p.m.

With every passing minute on the afternoon of June 7, the two dogs inflicted more wounds on 7-year-old Kaeden J. Mitchell – bites to his head, face and neck.

A police lieutenant arrived at the scene at 3:42 p.m., and he eventually carried the bloodied boy to safety from the backyard of a Niagara Falls home, according to a lawyer hired by the boy's mother.

What that lieutenant and other officers did in the minutes after they reached the scene could be dissected in court. Vikki-Lynn Avino, the child's mother, has filed a notice of claim, a preliminary step to a lawsuit against the Niagara Falls Police Department for what she considers its slow response to the dog attack.

Police officers gathered in front of the house but wouldn't go into the backyard to confront the two Rottweilers "for three, four, five minutes," said Charles S. Desmond II, the mother's attorney.

The lieutenant carried Kaeden to safety only after the dogs already were off the child, Desmond said.

"He didn't do anything," Desmond said.

Not only did officers not jump in fast enough, they also held back a neighbor who wanted to enter the backyard to come to the boy's aid, Desmond said.

"When they got there, they failed to act appropriately and intervene, and they did not allow other persons that wanted to intervene to get in to stop the attack,"  Desmond said Friday.

Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto has a different take on what happened in the backyard.

"Our officers followed policy, procedure and law, and acted heroically that day," DalPorto said Friday. "From all indications, they saved the life of that 7-year-old boy."

'Son, can you move over this way?'

The first call for help came at 3:21 p.m. according to the notice of claim. Officers were dispatched at 3:27 p.m.

Kaeden Mitchell with his mother, Vikkilynn Avino. (Courtesy Roy Gregory)

The first officer to arrive, Judith M. Lipa, reached the home at 3:41 p.m.  She was followed a minute later by Lt. Jason G. Sykes.

Sykes told The Buffalo News on the day of the attack that he saw two women, two children and two Rottweilers. Each dog weighed 160 pounds, he estimated.

"I walked up the driveway to the gated fence,” Sykes told The News. “I looked through and saw a female holding back a very large Rottweiler, and then there was a second Rottweiler to her right. She screamed, ‘I’m too exhausted. I can’t hold him back any longer!’ To her left there was a small boy. He was on his knees, bent over. He was covered in blood. I tried to shout out to him, ‘Son, can you move over this way?’ He doesn’t respond."

Nicole M. Richmond, the boy's cousin, was the woman holding back the one Rottweiler, with the other dog standing to her right, according to the notice of claim. Richmond had taken Kaeden to the house on 70th Street for babysitting.

"Ms. Richmond was covered in dried blood," according to the notice.

Sykes said in the interview that he was deciding whether to go in alone or wait for more officers.

"At that point, the dogs had kind of gotten distracted and moved toward the back of the yard," Sykes said. "I at that point entered and extracted the young boy and brought him to the ambulance crew that was staged on the street."

Sykes "entered the yard with his gun drawn at the low ready and moved toward Kaeden," according to the notice of claim.

Officer at scene of dog attack found boy 'covered in blood,' woman screaming

Desmond, however, said a witness can back up his assertion that police arrived while the attack was still happening and didn't enter the backyard for several minutes.

"There was a neighbor we have a statement from, an affidavit, a male whose name I don't want to give right now," Desmond said. "He was trying to go through the gate, get in there and try to break it up, and they would not let him in, nor would the police themselves go in and try to intervene. They sort of let it run its course," Desmond said.

"The facts are, the attack was occurring when the police officer arrived and continued to occur for several minutes," Desmond said.

What of the lieutenant's account?

"His story is his story, but that'll be subject to cross-examination," Desmond said.

The anticipated lawsuit will be based on what happened at the scene, not on the response time to the scene, he said.

The recovery

Kaeden, now 8, spent a month in the hospital, surviving a stroke and enduring a medically induced coma and numerous surgeries.

Roy Gregory, the boy's grandfather, told The Buffalo News last summer that doctors used 250 stitches and 250 staples to close all of his wounds.

The boy underwent surgery to repair a large wound in the back of his head and a spinal cord injury. The original police report said Kaeden's right ear was partially torn off. There were jagged lacerations around his right eye and cheek.

At Gates Vascular Institute, doctors used a permanent stent to open and reconstruct one of his neck arteries, which had been torn. That restored blood flow to his brain. Kaeden was released from Women and Children's Hospital on July 6.

"As far as permanent cognitive deficits, time will tell. That's what the specialists tell us," Desmond said.

Lawsuits filed

Avino filed a State Supreme Court lawsuit against Keri Ann Sweatman, the boy's aunt, and Richmond, his cousin, on Jan. 22 .

Also named as a defendant is Jeffrey M. Zewin, the Las Vegas landlord of the 70th Street house where the attack occurred.

On the day of the attack, Mary Zewin, the landlord's mother, told The Buffalo News that tenants were not allowed to have dogs. She declined to be quoted when reached about the lawsuit Wednesday.

Sweatman surrendered the Rottweilers to the SPCA of Niagara on the day of the attack, and they were euthanized.

Gregory said by text that Avino would not comment on the case. Sweatman and Richmond, who could not be reached by phone, did not respond to messages or a note in their mailbox seeking comment about the lawsuit.

Desmond said he filed the lawsuit against the dog owners and their former landlord because the insurance companies representing them would not settle with Avino.

Asked how much in damages he would seek, Desmond said, "A lot. He went through hell."

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