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It's the sort of place where people obey speed limits,keep their lawns lush, play catch with their kids in the front yard, and invite one another to barbecues on Friday and Saturday nights. Teenagers maneuver bikes, skateboards, and motorized scooters around the meandering streets, past the beat-up basketball hoops that hunch over every third driveway or so. The grade school, Pembroke Lakes Elementary, just received the tenth-highest state rating among Broward County elementaries. This time of year, mama ducks lead waddling squads of fluffy ducklings to drink from puddles under mailboxes. The sound of heavy traffic along Hiatus Road is distant, almost oceanic.
You could do a lot worse than to move here.
About the only blight on this Pembroke Pines neighborhood, in fact, resides in the one-story fuchsia home at 10810 NW 20th St. with the parched lawn, foil over some windows, shades perpetually drawn, and seven basketballs scattered across the yard. The man of the house answers his door shirtless, barefoot, and sluggish. His long dreadlocks are pulled back in a massive pile, and his black-and-white basketball shorts drape down to capri level. When he smiles -- as he does often and with genuine charm -- his top and bottom teeth gleam gold like corn kernels. Across his belly is tattooed LEON, and on his left shoulder, vertically, is TISHA, all in big, gothic letters. On his left pectoral, a snapshot-sized pit bull stands at attention, its eyes colored red.
Pit bulls, 23-year-old Leon Edouard says, are like any dogs; they just have a bad reputation. To demonstrate, he slips back inside his front door, taking care to close it quickly. Seconds later, he emerges from a side exit in the garage with Angel, a stout, pale female of the breed with brown spots, a studded leather collar, and teats like ragged drapes. Edouard clasps her mouth shut with a large hand. The dog stands silently as her owner indicates a quivering pink circle where a .45 caliber bullet pierced her right front leg. A few inches back is another, bigger circle where the bullet exited. Every day, Edouard gives Angel a pill and washes these wounds with some blue stuff.
Angel is quiet until she makes eye contact with a visitor. Then she growls through clamped teeth.
"She didn't used to do this," he says. "Now she figures anyone is trying to hurt her."
That's pretty sound, even by dog logic. Angel has been part of a rotating pit bull cabal that has defined Edouard's backyard since he moved to the neighborhood nine months ago. He and his wife, Tisha, brought their six kids and a disputed number of dogs here specifically because it was a peaceful spot with police living nearby.
Since Edouard arrived, though, there's been little peace. His neighbors have called the cops and code enforcement complaining about the dogs at least two dozen times, and records show the authorities have visited on at least a dozen occasions since October, arresting him once. On May 19, police emptied Glocks into rampaging dogs in his front yard.
In fact, during that week in May, the dogs mauled, separately, two workmen in the backyard. This chaos would be bad enough, even if Edouard didn't have a lengthy criminal record that includes a guilty plea to child abuse charges stemming from reports that he raped a 13-year-old girl who would later become his niece. The dogs, even after the bloodshed, don't spook the neighborhood nearly as much as their owner does.
Edouard seems oblivious to this. What gnaws at him is that police came into his yard and blew away his dogs. If they were alive, he could show you. "They don't do nothing," he says.
As he flips through some Polaroid photos of the slain canines, his 15-month-old son, also named Leon, toddles out of the house with blue billiard chalk smeared around his lips and a scratched SpongeBob Squarepants DVD in his right hand. His head is a shock of curly hair. Around his neck hang three gold chains, and around each wrist are wrapped two gold bracelets that complement his yellow Phat Farm shirt, which in turn complements his white diaper.
Little Leon points to the photos. "Doggie?" he asks. "Daaaaggie?" Then his tiny voice turns tiny-ferocious. "Daaaaggie? Grrrrrrrr."
Back on the afternoon of May 19, a short, wiry pool maintenance man named Cass St. Leon knocked on Edouard's front door before entering the yard, according to Fort Lauderdale attorney Bob McKee. When no one answered, the 42-year-old owner of New Wave Pools took his cleaning supplies through the gate and began work. Suddenly, three pit bulls came at St. Leon without warning. The pool man grabbed a nearby wooden palette to wield as a shield while the dogs dug their teeth into his flesh. He backed against the fence, chucked the palette at his attackers, and then sprinted to the hood of Edouard's 1994 white Caprice, where he phoned police and his wife. "He didn't think he'd survive the day if he fell down," McKee says.
A few minutes before 3 p.m., Pembroke Pines Officer Archibald Pinder parked across the street from Edouard's house and saw St. Leon standing on the hood of the Chevy, which had 23-inch Dakar rims, according to police reports. The car was surrounded by three pit bulls. The pool man, a police report states, was "bleeding heavily from numerous areas on his body."