29 Jan THE GREAT McALESTER CANINE CAPER – PART I of II
It was just a little after 11 P.M. and Myratia Cooper was doing “Mom things”, when the first one her children noticed the sound and said something to her. She was in the drive-thru at the Walgreen’s in McAlester, when the child mentioned the screaming. She told the others to be quiet and listened, she heard it too. She was still trying to locate the source of the wailing when the metal tray opened and she reached over and retrieved her prescription. She pulled out, and had to make a shade over her eyes so that she could look out without being blinded by the approaching noon day sun.
There down the hill she spotted the source of the awful yelping. In the parking lot of the Tag Agency, on the flat bed of a truck, a small dog appeared to be tied to the back of the truck and wailing in pain. The children started to cry as well, and Myratia turned right out of the Walgreen’s parking lot instead of left, as she would have to go to her next destination, and then pulled into the Tag Agency parking lot.
With the children watching on, she pulled up next to the flatbed truck. Tied to the bed of the truck was a little puppy. Myratia approached the puppy with a cup of water she had poured from her bottle of water. She was concerned that the puppy was crying for thirst in the sweltering heat. She first went to the side of the truck and reached out for the puppy to drink the water. However, the puppy could not reach, he was tangled in the line that his owner had left him attached to, that was tied to the truck bed. Myratia next went to the back of the truck and began to get up on to the bed with the intention of untangling the puppy and offering him some water.
As she climbed onto the bed, she began to understand the likely cause of the puppy’s discomfort. The black, aluminum, diamond plate bed of the truck was brilliantly hot to the touch. As she approached the puppy and began to untangle him, she believed that the dog was hurting as a result of the owner’s neglect. She decided that the puppy’s feet were burning on the hot metal truck bed. She untangled the animal, removed the leash and in one scoop picked him up under her arm and took him to what she believed was the safety of her vehicle, and left the parking lot.
A short time later a young woman would return to the flat-bed pickup that she had driven to town that day and look for the puppy she had tied to the truck bed before going inside. The young lady noticed the missing puppy and went back inside to the Tag Agency for help. The McAlester Police Department was notified and the case was assigned to Officer Jeremy Busby. The Tag Agency was able to rewind the recorded video surveillance from the security cameras around the building to help everyone get some idea of what had occurred. In just minutes without further investigation, the officer concluded that a larceny had taken place and that the water…well, that was just a tool to coax the dog to her.
In no time the video was turned over to the McAlester News Capital which featured it on their Facebook page. The caption claimed that the person in the video had “stolen” the puppy in broad daylight, breaking the hearts of the children who had recently received this puppy as a pet. The post was shared across the social media universe of Southeast Oklahoma. Brave Facebook users commented on the “type” of person that would do such a terrible thing, and some went so far as to graphically detail what violent punishment should be in store for the horrible person on the grainy video.
Myratia had finished her errands for the day, and after she and the kids had given the puppy a bath. She was warning them the entire time not to become attached because the dog could not stay with them. Myratia was referring to the fact that not only was the dog not theirs, but even if the puppy wasn’t a recent rescue, she knew her husband would not agree to letting the him stay. She knew all of this when she picked the dog up off of that flatbed truck, she even called her mother and told her that within minutes of doing it.
Myratia’s mother, who lives in Georgia, got the call that morning. She let Myratia tell her about the entire incident without interruption, from the kids and her hearing the wailing to the scorching hot surface she surely believed had burned the puppy’s feet. Her mom could not help but to roll her eyes as she listened. This was far from the first time that Myratia had rescued an animal.
Myratia had rescued animals in need since she was a little girl. Kittens were often her patients, but she was known to bring in just about any lost or hurt animal, including a squirrel on one occasion. Myratia’s mom, although she admired her ability to care so much for animals in need, had also experienced the vet bills and heartache that came along with having a child that felt the need to rescue…everything. She listened to Myratia explain how in need the little puppy was, and she also agreed with Myratia that she could not keep the animal, and needed to find a safe place for it. What Myratia was about to find out was that she was probably the most wanted person in Southeast Oklahoma, and it would be even more shocking to find out that it wasn’t because she did the right thing, as she felt, and saved the puppy.
Myratia just happened to log onto her own Facebook page, and it wasn’t long until she found out that she was the subject of a county wide search. She read everything. She read about how her actions were criminal, rather than admirable, as she believed. She read the comments. How could people say such things? It was so awful. They called her names. They said she should be hurt, tortured. How can other people say things like this?
Scared, tears running down her face, she called the police station to explain about the puppy. She just needed to tell them how this was a huge misunderstanding, that she was just trying to help. She was directed to the phone of Officer Jeremy Busby. He was not there and would later admit that she had contacted him that day, but he did not check his messages until after he had arrested Myratia.
The following day at around two in the afternoon, Officer Busby began to review the case. He received a tip in regard to the truck that appeared in the grainy surveillance video. A city employee informed Busby that he thought he recognized the truck and gave Busby the location where he believed the truck was. Had Officer Busby just listened to his messages, he would have known that Myratia Cooper had the puppy in her possession and had left her information for Officer Busby to call her.
Busby went to the location that the City Employee had told him about. He saw the truck parked in front of a house and watched an adult female come out of the house. As he began to approach the female came toward him, it was Myratia Cooper. She was crying hysterically saying that she took the dog she believed it was being abused. She kept trying to explain this to Busby, saying over and over that the bed of the truck was hot and the puppy’s paws were burning. Busby notes in his report that she was so hysterical, according to him, that he had to yell at her. He did ask her why she didn’t call the police when she saw the dog was being abused. She answered him and told him that she did not have a phone on her. That was the extent of Officer Busby’s criminal investigation. The only other thing he did was take some pictures of the puppy at the police station and write a report. There was no investigation into the claims of abuse that Myratia witnessed about the puppy being tied to the bed of a scorching hot truck. Or that the puppy was injured in any way. Despite the fact that the puppy was clearly depicted on the bed of that truck in the same video Officer Busby had observed when trying to identify the person that took or rescued the animal.
(The following is the transcribed from the preliminary hearing in this matter that was held on July 31, 2017, before the Hon. James Bland)
Q. She’s making an allegation that there’s been abuse of this animal?
A. That’s the statement she made, yes.
Q. And your reaction to that is to call the person who she says was abusing this animal?
Q. Because you didn’t do any investigation into whether the animal was abused?
A. From the case that I had and the evidence that I had there was no evidence to lead me to believe that that dog was being abused.
Q. Well, you watched the video, right?
Q. Okay. You agree with me, on the video we see a truck pull up with aluminum diamond flatbed, yes?
A. I don’t know about the diamond plating, but it had a metal bed.
Q. All right.
A. Or steel or some kind of metal
Q. It’s approximately 91 degrees that day?
A. Sounds right.
Q. Okay, have you ever sat on a metal flatbed in 90-degree weather?
Q. Did you contact a veterinarian to determine whether the dog had any injuries when there were allegations of abuse?
A. Didn’t need to.
Q. Why? Are you a vet?
A. No. I’m not.
Myratia Cooper was arrested and the District Attorney, Chuck Sullivan, creatively charged her with Larceny of Domestic Animal, a felony. The charge itself would eventually come under scrutiny and be examined eventually by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, and over two years later the case would be dismissed a second time with no clear certainty of being over. However, that same day that Myratia was arrested the McAlester News Capital would proudly declare in a headline “COPS CRACK CANINE CAPER”.
There is a feeling of lightheartedness that seems to go along with this case. The headline from the McAlester News Capital, “COPS CRACK CANINE CAPER”, just feels kind of fun and almost whimsical. I guess as whimsical as a felony crime reporting can be. However, when the jailer told Myratia to remove her clothing and stand on the line as if she was livestock being inspected, the whimsy of the situation certainly felt lost on her. Sure she would make a bond and ultimately hire this law firm to defend her, but that would come after having been strip naked, inspected, clothed in a scratchy and unforgiving County issued jail uniform (and for the ladies would typically mean without a bra), and locked in a cage like an animal on the suspicion that she may have committed a crime. I’m sorry I misspoke when I said she was locked in a cage like an animal, that’s not true. If you locked your poodle or your labradoodle in a cage proportionally equivalent to the one Myratia was locked in and left it there for days at a time (In Oklahoma its not uncommon for the accused to be locked in a cage for months at a time between court dates.), you would be charged with felony abuse to animals. In Oklahoma and across the United States we call what would be abuse for the animal world, jail, for our fellow brother and sister human beings.
TO BE CONTINUED…