State dismisses complaint against greyhound trainer

Agency missed deadline to pursue sanctions for inhumane treatment of racing dog

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

LONGWOOD, Fla. - The state agency that regulates greyhound racing has dismissed an administrative complaint against a dog trainer whom it had previously accused of inhumanely treating an animal.

The action was dropped because the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR, missed a 90-day deadline to serve greyhound trainer Katherine Lacasse with the complaint as required by state law, records obtained by News 6 show.

According to the administrative complaint, Lacasse lifted and jerked a racing greyhound by its leash, causing the dog to hit its head on a gate and yelp in pain.

Lacasse, who denies mistreating any of her dogs, claims DBPR “made up” the allegations in retaliation for her criticism of the state agency over the way it conducts drug testing of greyhounds.

“It is well known that Ms. Lacasse has been an outspoken advocate for the racing community and worked hard to make sure that those in the industry are treated fairly by the State, hence this complaint suddenly came to fruition,” said Lacasse’s attorney, Jennifer Rosenblum. “It was certainly a good way to make Ms. Lacasse look bad in the eyes of the public, wasn’t it?”

If an administrative law judge later found Lacasse had treated a greyhound inhumanely, the trainer could have faced potential fines or suspension of her pari-mutuel wagering occupational license. 

By dismissing the administrative complaint, DBPR can no longer take legal action against Lacasse for that alleged violation.

In his order dismissing the administrative complaint, DBPR Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Robert Ehrhardt indicated the agency had sufficient evidence to allege Lacasse violated state law.

DBPR has not responded to questions from News 6 specifically asking why the agency failed to serve Lacasse with the administrative complaint within the 90-day deadline.

“The Division always follows the law and attempts to fairly regulate within the brief statutorily authorized time period for service of an administrative complaint after a violation of (state laws governing pari-mutuel racing),” DBPR director of communications Suellen Wilkins said.

Trainer questions timing of administrative complaint

Following a race at the Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club on Sept. 22, a urine sample collected from one of Lacasse’s greyhounds reportedly tested positive for methocarbamol, a skeletal muscle relaxant, state records said.

DBPR later served Lacasse with an administrative complaint accusing her of violating a state law that prohibits dogs medicated with certain drugs from participating in races.

Lacasse has requested an administrative hearing to dispute the agency’s findings.  She and other members of the greyhound racing industry have challenged the procedures DBPR uses to collect and analyze greyhound urine samples.

“We are confident that complaint will eventually be dismissed as well,” said Rosenblum.  “Stay tuned.”

On Sept. 27, five days after Lacasse’s greyhound tested positive for the banned drug, according to records, a DBPR employee claimed he witnessed the trainer treating one of her dogs inhumanely.

DBPR Chief Inspector Patrick Prentice said Lacasse was walking about six dogs in the track's weigh-in area when one dog became tangled in another dog's leash.

"Katherine (Lacasse) became visibly upset at the dogs and began cursing at them," Prentice wrote in an incident report. "At this point Katherine haphazardly lifted the entangled dog into the air while yelling, 'It's your (expletive) fault.'"

"While jerking the dog backwards it hit the left side of its head against the clasp of the gate leading into the paddock area and let out a cry of pain," Prentice stated.

The inspector said he assessed the dog and did not see any visible injuries on the side of its head.
A greyhound racing judge who did not witness the incident claims he heard one of the greyhounds yelp as if in pain.

"I heard Ms. Lacasse curse and jerk on the leash of one of the greyhounds," Paul McGrew wrote in a statement.  "I told her to stop jerking on the greyhound's leashes like that and to refrain from cursing around the customers watching weigh-in."

Neither Prentice nor McGrew could later identify the specific dog that cried, the report stated.

"It's totally false," Lacasse said. "I had a dog fall, get tripped by another dog, and I actually saved the dog because the other dogs wanted to jump on it.  And I pulled the dog up by the collar because it was upside down in the middle of six other dogs."

“Even if this incident happened exactly as (the state alleges), which it did not, this never should have been an issue of ‘inhumane treatment’ and instead should have been seen as an accident,” the trainer’s attorney said.

Even though it was alleged the incident occurred on Sept. 27, DBPR investigator Bryan Wall did not interview Lacasse until more than two months later.

DBPR has repeatedly declined to explain why the investigator did not question Lacasse sooner.
When News 6 first questioned DBPR in April about the length of time between the alleged incident and Lacasse’s interview, the agency said it could not comment on pending litigation.

Now that Lacasse’s administrative complaint has been dismissed, DPBR is still not disclosing the reasons why the investigator did not interview Lacasse until late November.

DBPR filed the administrative complaint against Lacasse alleging inhumane treatment on March 12, 2018, nearly six months after the incident was alleged to have occurred and well after the 90 days required by state law to serve Lacasse with the complaint.

“(It’s) made up,” Lacasse said of the now-dismissed action.  “When we started speaking out, we started getting targeted.”

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