By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
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."
Pinder yelled to St. Leon, telling him to hold tight, and summoned fire rescue. Two more officers, Angela Dearing and Donald Hines, arrived within minutes. Dearing and Pinder took defensive positions behind their cars, while Hines parked just east of the house and got behind St. Leon's truck.
Hines asked St. Leon how many dogs had attacked him. At that, the three pit bulls charged the cop. Pinder didn't have a clear shot, but Hines and Dearing started blasting, firing 11 times. From her house, Kathy Broderick heard the ruckus. "It sounded like a shooting gallery," she said later.
One dog, Killer, fell in the front yard. Two, Angel and Butch, retreated to the back. Hines climbed onto the car with St. Leon. Dearing then drove up to the Caprice with her cruiser and hustled St. Leon into the back seat for a ride to the fire rescue truck down the block. The dogs had gotten his feet, legs, arms, and face.
Officers still weren't sure of the dog situation, so Hines got on the roof of the house while others shut the gate. Kids were just getting off school buses in the neighborhood, so other officers on the scene patrolled for loose dogs. But the two they shot had simply staggered as far away from the front yard as they could get.
From her backyard, which borders Edouard's, Kathy Broderick watched Butch fall over, try to stand, then plop down for good. "The dog kept looking back at me with blood running out of his mouth like, 'Please help me,'" Broderick says on the phone, weeping openly. "It took him, like, 40 minutes to die. I was out there telling the cops, 'The person you should be shooting is the son of a bitch that lives here, not the dogs. '"
Long before firearms were drawn, the five-bedroom house at 10810 NW 20th St. had seemed a little off to others in the neighborhood.
Fort Lauderdale police detective Randy Pelham and his wife, Lori, moved to the area two years ago. They had been house shopping on a Sunday morning when they pulled up to a small neighborhood park at NW 19th Street and 108th Avenue to drink some coffee. As they rested on a bench, a man walked out of a nearby home and staked a For Sale sign in his yard, then walked back inside.
Randy knocked. The owner wanted $195,000. Randy said, "How about 190?" Done, just like that. Within a couple of months, they were out of their Dania Beach condo and hitting it off with their new next-door neighbors, Kevin and Kathy Broderick, who had lived in the neighborhood since 1994. Kathy's a voluble blond who works at the Home Depot; Kevin, a tall Sunrise cop with an easy smile. The two couples swapped house keys and barbecue invites. Early on, Lori Pelham remembers telling her husband: "I can't believe God has blessed us like this."
Then, mischief. Little stuff went wrong at first. Teenagers tossed the occasional beer bottle over the fence. Kevin Broderick recalls finding rocks in his pool, right under holes in the screen porch. Last summer, paintball stains peppered mailboxes, houses, cars, patios.
The chicanery emanated, the neighbors allege, from the house at 10810 NW 20th St. But back then, the resident wasn't Edouard. It was Doreen Campbell, a real estate appraiser. The low fence that separated her backyard from the Pelhams' and the Brodericks' wasn't much buffer for privacy or peace when Campbell's son's rock band would play in the garage or when his friends would descend for raucous parties.
Kathy Broderick recalls one such shindig. Wine cooler bottles kept flying over the fence and smashing against a neighbor's house, so she called the cops. The first officer there peered through the bushes and saw a kid with some kind of rifle -- a BB gun, maybe. The officer told Kathy to get back inside as he called for backup. "They came in very silent," she recalls. "A lot of them." Kathy, nosy, crawled across her backyard, belly-down, and looked through the chain-link fence. She didn't see much at first but heard what sounded like cops smashing in the front door, followed by some panicked punk running headlong through a glass door. "After that bam, you heard 'Freeze!' and then glass shattering, and then screaming," she says.
The worst came a few days after U.S. bombers began strafing Baghdad last year. The Pelhams were chatting in the family room when Randy looked up to see an orange laser dot on his wife's forehead. "I yelled, 'Hit the ground!'" says Randy, who was on Fort Lauderdale's SWAT team at the time.
He and a friend slunk around the block to the front of Campbell's house and saw through the window that she was working at her computer. Except she wasn't moving. And the screen saver was on. Some kid apparently had stuck a wig on a mannequin so Mom would appear to be home. "Tremendously strange," Randy Pelham recalls. "It was like something out of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. "
As in past visits, the cops who responded were little help. So the Pelhams and Brodericks were hopeful when Campbell moved out late last summer. Then came the October night when they heard construction noises coming from the house's backyard. They awoke the next morning, they say, to the sounds and smells of 14 barking, snarling, defecating pit bulls in massive wooden crates.
Campbell had rented the house to Edouard. Edouard doesn't actually deny the number. But he does say there's no way he could have fit 14 pit bulls in his yard: "C'mon now."
A garage band at the house on 20th Street is one thing. A phalanx of pit bulls is another. Pembroke Pines law allows residents to keep as many as three dogs at once. Any more than that, the home is considered a kennel, and code enforcement can issue fines.
About 200 communities in the United States, including Cincinnati, Miami-Dade, and until recently, Denver, outlaw pit bulls because of their supposed ferocity. But neither Pembroke Pines nor Broward County regulates the breed. Indeed, Broward's population of the canines has burgeoned since 1989, when Miami-Dade County banned them. More than 3,100 were registered in 2002, up 65 percent in four years. Pit bulls account for about a fifth of the dog impounds in Broward each year, according to county records.
For Edouard's neighbors, the problem wasn't the pit bulls per se. It was that they suddenly lived next to pit bulls who barked so much that at least three couples -- the Brodericks, the Pelhams, and Leo and Tanya Sanchez -- all called in sick to work one morning for lack of sleep.
Kathy Broderick says she tried diplomacy -- at least with the dogs. She would leave her television on, hoping the sound would help acclimate the animals to people and pacify them. But she recalls an episode in February when she went looking for an opossum that lived under her pool. When she spotted Edouard over the fence in his backyard, she told him she was searching for the critter.
Edouard told her not to worry. The dogs had already shredded the opossum into pieces and strewn them about the yard. It didn't surprise Kathy; she had consistently heard ripping, snarling sounds. "It would just come through your skin," she says.
From the outset, Randy Pelham says, he also tried to be reasonable, but after one night of relentless barking, he nearly hopped the back fence during a confrontation with Edouard. "It turned into a yelling match back and forth," Pelham says. "He basically told me that if I came around the block, something to the effect of, he promised me he would kick my ass."
They eventually managed to hold a civil conversation. At that point, Edouard said he was going to keep the hounds quiet.
The encounter spurred curiosity. "That's when everybody said, 'Who is this guy? What are we dealing with?'" Kathy Broderick says.
Police reports and court papers show that Edouard, born September 2, 1980, has managed to avoid serving significant jail time despite some serious scrapes with the law. He was arrested in February 2002 for driving with a borrowed tag and handing an officer someone else's ID when questioned. The charges were reduced from felony to misdemeanor; he was fined $213.
A year later, Edouard allegedly had sex with a girl a month shy of her 14th birthday, when he was 20 years old. New Times is not naming the victim because of her age. But the police report, dated July 12, 2001, describes a sexual encounter in a private residence on the Seminole reservation in Hollywood that appears unseemly, to say the least. "The victim began to object and wanted the defendant to stop," the report reads. "The defendant began to sexually batter the victim minor by continuing to have penal-vaginal intercourse while the victim pushed at the defendant in an attempt to stop him. After ejaculating, the defendant removed himself from on top of the victim." The court file on that case contains a deposition from a nurse who examined the girl; there were no physical signs of forced sex.
Edouard was first charged with sexual battery on a minor and lewd and lascivious behavior. On December 19, 2002, he pleaded no contest to child abuse, then accepted a year of community control and a year of probation.
This past January, Edouard pleaded guilty to petty theft and got six months' probation. The father of the abused girl accused him of stealing a $1,380 pit bull pup. The girl's father, who says she is a niece of Edouard's wife, Tisha, says he tries "not to associate" with Edouard.
To boot, records indicate that only two of Edouard's dogs were registered with the county. Failure to register animals can draw fines as high as $300 in Broward.
Edouard admits that on paper, he comes off as a thug. "It always looks bad when you type up my name," he concedes. The sexual case was messed up, he says, without offering details. He says he pleaded no contest rather than risk serving time. The dog theft was just a mix-up, he says. His traffic offenses, tickets, and such, well, yeah, those he cops to. But he's all cleaned up, he says.
When he graduated from Hollywood Hills High School five years ago, he had been running with a crowd of guys who fought, robbed -- "all that bullshit." Shortly after that, he met Tisha, a member of the Seminole tribe who was about five years older than he. They married last year, he says, and have had two children -- one after moving here -- together. That brings her total to seven, which makes her eligible for about $336,000 in tribal money this year.
Edouard, who is presently unemployed, may be trying to reform. Bottle-feeding his baby one morning on his porch, he nuzzles the infant with his nose -- then, when he notices he's being watched, he sits up and turns away, as if embarrassed to be seen in such a tender display. But if he did move to Pembroke Pines for quiet, for safety, for a nice place for his kids, he has sabotaged it all by not keeping a low profile, by giving those around him reason to worry.
"He's got a record," Kathy Broderick says. "He's a thief, and then the child thing. In my mind, it played heavy on me."
Police reports indicate officers visited Edouard's home four times between October 25 and October 27 on complaints of barking and animal abuse. Only on the 28th did Officer Matthew Dolton run Edouard through a database. Dolton learned he was wanted on a four-month-old misdemeanor warrant in Glades County for skipping $255 in traffic court fines.
Edouard was arrested, spent a night in lockup, paid the fine, and was back home on November 4, when code inspector David Gazes came by to check the dogs. Gazes' report noted then that "All Dogs have been removed from premises."
If that assessment was accurate, it wasn't for long. Gazes was back three days later on another barking complaint, though his report says he didn't notice a violation when he checked. He didn't return calls seeking comment.
Later that month, Gazes told the Pelhams that Tisha had given Edouard the boot. But enough had become too much for the Pelhams. "I told Lori, it's obvious that whether it's Doreen or whether it's Leon, if we have issues, we're not going to be able to get them resolved with the public services in Pembroke Pines," Randy Pelham recalls. "And being a cop, I can't have any problems." They moved to a quiet home with a big yard in Plantation and immediately felt terrible for the couple who bought their house, Wendy and Thomas Miller.
The Millers, who had lived in a Miami Beach apartment for seven years before moving to Pembroke Pines, loved the place and closed three weeks after the Pelhams accepted their offer of $270,000. "I have to tell you, we must have seen 70 houses," Wendy Miller says. "We were really, really happy."
At first, it was quiet, the Millers say. Within a month, though, the dogs were back. "Every day, every night," Thomas Miller says of the barking. "And there were lots of dogs, certainly more than a half dozen." After seeing a dog standing at eye level on a crate or box and after a neighbor, Tanya Sanchez, reported seeing four pit bulls wandering loose, Wendy Miller stopped going into her yard and allowing her cats there.
By late February, the Millers were calling code enforcement. On March 13, Gazes came to their home, Wendy recalls. She contends that after she showed the inspector Edouard's backyard, where four pit bulls were milling, Gazes took pictures and yelled to Edouard, "Yo, we need to talk about your dogs."
But when Wendy followed up with Gazes, he claimed he had seen only one dog in the yard. He didn't have any photos. And what made her think she could get rid of Edouard? She replied, because her name is Wendy Miller, and she's from Boston, and she doesn't have to put up with it. Still, to this point, she's had to deal with the dogs anyway. "I've lived in fear," she says.
In late March, the dogs were barking up a storm when Thomas Miller went out to fix some lights in the backyard. The 6-foot-9 lawyer looked up to see his 5-foot-3 wife standing over him with a meat cleaver in hand and a pitchfork nearby. "I just said, 'I have to protect you,'" Wendy says.
"My reaction," Thomas recalls, "was to say, 'Come on, let's go inside. We don't need this. '"
Stacey Woolsey's May 13 encounter with the pit bulls should have been a cautionary tale. That afternoon, the 37-year-old Comcast contractor and his partner, Dave Courtney, walked through the gate on the left side of Edouard's house to upgrade the cable amplifier, a squat green utility box in the backyard.
A notice had been left on Edouard's door a few days earlier, informing him that utility workers were coming, Woolsey says, but the courtesy wasn't returned: No signs warned of dogs.
After about five minutes of working on the equipment, Woolsey heard a noise. When he turned, he says, four pit bulls were charging him. He took off running toward the fence at the side of Edouard's yard. As he leaped on it, breaking the top board, the hounds were upon him. "As I'm trying to fuckin' kick, they bit my ass and my calf and my hamstring on both sides," Woolsey says. "[Edouard] literally had to beat them off with his hand and a stick."
Edouard subdued the dogs, penned them in the garage, and confronted Woolsey. He said the contractor didn't have any business back there -- and didn't he know you're not supposed to run from dogs?
Woolsey shot right back, "What the fuck are you talking about, not run?" And didn't Edouard get the notice on his door?
The bleeding technician dragged himself over to the garden hose, where Edouard watered him. Woolsey could see the fatty tissue through the gashes in the back of his thigh. An abrasion on one cornea, perhaps from breaking boards, was making everything blurry. Edouard continued to berate Woolsey, telling him that the mailman knows not to mess with the dogs. What was his problem?
Woolsey replied that he had every right to be there, this was utility work for the whole neighborhood, there were no beware-of-dog signs, and he would have to file a police report, throwing in several maternal f-bombs and their variants.
Woolsey says Edouard pleaded to leave the cops out of it. Woolsey instead told him to put some signs up and two days later went to the hospital to get six stitches in the back of his leg. The cut on his eye, he says, forced him to miss a week of work.
"He let the fuckin' dogs out on us for sure," Woolsey says. "Look, this guy's an asshole. He thinks he lives in the country by himself."
Edouard laughs when he recalls this episode. He says he had been washing the dogs, and they acted on their own. He seems most irked that he had to pony up $30 to repair the fence board Woolsey broke. "I didn't do it. My dogs didn't do it," he says of the busted fence.
On May 19, the day everyone saw coming, Edouard says he was returning home from getting his car serviced when he saw officers taping off his front yard. One cop, Donald Hines, was on his roof with a big gun. His red dog lay dead out front. Edouard describes that dog, Killer, as so goofy, "you could come out from nowhere with an alligator costume, whatever, he'd come play with you."
The police kept Edouard in front for about 20 minutes, he says, until he threw a fit and the officers walked him to the back, where Angel was shot, Butch was dead, and Kathy Broderick was yapping some bullshit, according to Edouard.
He told her to mind her own fuckin' business. Animal control arrived and offered to put Angel down for him, which didn't make any sense. He took her to the hospital. Authorities collected the bodies of her sons and later cut off their heads to check for rabies.
Cass St. Leon was listed in serious condition but soon gave interviews from the hospital. The daily papers and television stations latched on. The day-after Miami Herald story dug up anecdotes about the dangers of being a pool man -- don't run, came the advice of one. Neither that story nor the Sun-Sentinel's noted Edouard's felonies or much from his neighbors. Stacy Woolsey saw the coverage and called the hospital to apologize to the St. Leon family. "I told them I was sorry, that I felt responsible for not going to the police immediately," the cable contractor says. A few days later, he called Pembroke Pines police to offer a statement. After talking about his experiences, Woolsey made a request to be sure his home address not appear in this story. "He's a real thug," he says of Edouard, "and who knows what kind of people he deals with. I don't want to be presumptuous; I just don't want him doing a drive-by or anything."
Edouard maintains that St. Leon was supposed to come Tuesday, so his dogs were victims, not aggressors. So far, the city hasn't cited Edouard for the attack because it occurred on his property.
But McKee, the pool man's attorney, says that the date was correct and that the dogs should have been penned. Last month, the lawyer demanded $300,000 from the homeowner's insurer. "The dogs aren't vicious," he says. "They do what dogs do." It's Edouard and his landlord who are to blame, he concludes. Campbell, the landlord, says that rent's paid on time and that Edouard is a good tenant.
In any case, the dog owner had to wash the blood off his Caprice and undent its hood and roof, which had been stomped concave. He also has had to do his own pool work. It went from a black bilge pit to a pleasant sea green in a matter of days.
Edouard also reclaimed a couple of pit bulls he says friends had been keeping, so he's back up to the maximum three dogs, who sit in steel cages in the garage and bark ferociously when people walk by. (The Millers say, a month after the attack on St. Leon, that they sometimes see four dogs at his house.)
"I couldn't just have one dog," he says, though of course, he misses the two dead ones.
Things have almost returned to normal. He did get some nasty mail, postmarked May 24, unsigned, with a return address that read, "Society for the Extermination of Pit Bulls, Coral Springs, FL." It read,
Dear Mr. Dumb Ass Nigger:
I was delighted to see that the world has 2 less Pit Bulls thanks to some fine officers killing 2 of yours.
I hope the next time they are called to your residence they will kill the remaining PB's you may still have as well as send a load of buckshot into your black ass for owning the dogs in the first place.
Edouard shrugs off the missive, but he wasn't so patient when a neighbor called him "trash" shortly after the attacks. Edouard says he told that motherfuckin' pussy his dogs meant more to him than the neighbor. Certain words set Edouard off. "There's no way we're that kind of people," he says.
Actually, he's considering a move. Doesn't know when or where, exactly. It's just an idea he has. "I wish I had a big ol' piece of land, to have my dogs running around," he says, kind of dreamily. "It wouldn't matter. I wouldn't have to worry about shit. Build a big ol' fence."