In March, a local woman, Jessica Burling, was arrested after her children accidentally let her dog Luna out the door when they arrived home from school. The incident gained traction on social media and now everywhere you look on social media people are posting to ask, “Where’s Luna?”
The Williston Herald reached out to Taylor Olson, Williston’s city attorney, for an update on the case and for photographic proof that Luna is being well taken care of while in the custody of the Williston Police Department.
Olson said that Luna is still in the custody of the Williston Police Department but is being held off-site and not at the pound. Steven Armstrong, Deputy Chief, responded to our request for photos on Thursday, June 16. Information embedded with the photos confirm that the pictures were taken on June 15.
Here’s what we know about the case so far:
According to an affidavit of probable cause signed on March 25, Madison Ambrosini, the Community Service Officer who was assigned Burling’s case, stated that on March 22 Luna was at large, damaged private property, threatened injury to another dog, threatened harm to civilians, and exhibited signs of vicious behavior to animal control officers on March 22. Burling was then charged with a class B misdemeanor, vicious animal, as well as pitbull in city limits.
On March 26, a warrant for the arrest of Burling was signed and carried out three days later, and a court date was set for April 11. At the hearing, Burling entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of pitbull in city limits.
There have been many questions about a signed plea agreement that was later withdrawn by the city’s attorney. Court documents explain that on April 5, Burling’s attorney prepared a draft plea agreement and for “unknown reasons” this draft agreement arrived at the municipal court instead of Olson’s office.
At the court, the assistant city attorney signed the agreement without the consent of Olson. The court document goes on to explain that prior to this draft being signed, Olson had informed Burling’s counsel that the agreement was not final, as she was still discussing terms with the Williston Police Department and Animal Control.
Later in April, Olson communicated again with Burling’s counsel via email to inform them that she had yet to reach a resolution with animal control, and if a resolution could not be met, the proposed plea agreement would be withdrawn. At the time of that communication, Olsen was still unaware that the plea agreement had already been signed.
By the time Olson was made aware the draft agreement had been signed, the Court had already filed judgement based on this drafted agreement. Olson then asked the court on May 12 to allow the city to withdraw the plea agreement, calling it “an obvious error, a product of a mistake,” and to vacate the judgement entered by the courts based on that agreement. Olson also asked that the courts allow Burling to withdraw her waiver of jury trial, and to move both cases to the Williams County District Court for trial by jury.
Olson told the Herald that it is the first time in her tenure as the city’s attorney that this kind of mistake has been made.
In a court document signed on May 12, Olson states that she had exchanged an email with Burling’s attorney on April 18 where Olsen told him that she had been told that Burling needed to come get her animal. Burling’s attorney responded that he was under the impression that Burling’s case was not finalized and that Burling could not retrieve her animal.
Olsen again requested the paperwork be sent for her to sign so Burling could retrieve her animal, at which point Burling’s attorney sent over the draft plea agreement and an affidavit signed by Burling.
On April 21, Olson realized that she had confused Burling’s case with a different, unrelated case, and emailed Burling’s attorney explaining this.
The next day Olson spoke with Animal Control and communicated with Burling’s attorney that they believed Luna to be too vicious to be released back to Burling. Burling’s attorney responded by telling Olson that this put him in a difficult position as the return of Luna was necessary as part of the drafted plea agreement. If Luna would not be returned to Burling, he would need to withdraw the plea agreement and return the case back to district court. At the time of that email communication, Olson was still unaware that the drafted copy had already been signed by the city’s assistant attorney and filed with the court.
On May 13, a document was signed by Burling’s attorney stating that Burling had no opposition to the city’s motion to withdraw the plea agreement and that Burling was withdrawing her plea of guilty, her waiver of a trial by jury, and that she wished to return the vicious animal case to district court for trial by jury. On May 16, the court accepted the withdrawal of the plea agreement and transferred the vicious animal case to the district court for trial by jury. This May 16 document also noted that the prosecution of the pitbull in city limits case is being stayed by the prosecution due to the pending federal litigation against the city.
On June 2, a document was signed by Burling to ask the court to remove Isaac O. Lees as her attorney, so she could obtain alternative counsel. The court granted this request.
Burling has not responded to requests for comment.