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Charges filed in dog attack that killed baby in May

By Vanessa De La Vina
Published On: Sep 11 2012 11:48:54 AM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 10:11:42 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

The grandparents and father of a 15-month-old girl who in May was mauled by the family's pit bull have been arrested and charged in the fatal dog attack.

Leticia I. Mesa, 52, Arthur "Arturo" Mesa Sr., 57, and Jesus Mesa , 21, all residents of 819 Stone Canyon Dr. in Las Cruces, were arrested Monday evening on warrants. Leticia Mesa, the paternal grandmother of Jazilyn Nevaeh Mesa who died in May following the dog attack, is charged with negligent child abuse resulting in death.

Art Mesa Sr. and Jesus Mesa, the young girl's grandfather and father, respectively, are charged with one count each of possession of a dangerous dog resulting in death.

The death of Jazilyn Mesa has been under investigation by Las Cruces Police detectives and prosecutors from the Third Judicial District Attorney's Office since the May 8, 2012, dog attack.

Family members told ABC-7 what happened to the baby was an accident. Prosecutors disagree.

"There's a difference between a crime and an accident," District Attorney Amy Orlando told ABC-7.

Orlando said the Mesa family is responsible for the death of Jazilyn.

According to court documents, there was a long history of aggression from the pit bull that killed the baby.

"This dog, by their own admission was a vicious dog meaning they told people stay away from this dog. This dog had attacked other dogs. This dog came close to attacking other people," Orlando said.

Neighbors confirmed those reports telling ABC-7 they were afraid to even walk near the yard whenever the dog was outside.

"When they would walk him down the street, the dog would pull him and you never knew just how far from being out of control he was," Gerald Otis, who lives just down the street said.

Investigators learned from interviews with several neighbors that the pit bull, at various times prior to May 2012, showed signs of aggression toward them or their dogs.

One neighbor who had concerns about the pit bull's propensity for violence told detectives that Leticia Mesa revealed that Tyson had previously attacked another dog that also belonged to the Mesa's, leaving it with a severe scalp injury, according to Las Cruces Police officials.

A veterinarian who over the years cared for several dogs that belonged to the Mesa family told detectives that Tyson showed signs of aggression and had to be muzzled the one time it was treated at the office.

The grandparents' brother-in-law Victor Perez said the family had no idea something like this could happen.

"It's not like they put the baby there for the dog to maul. It's nothing of that sort. It's just a tragedy that happened. It was an accident," Perez said.

Investigators interviewed Leticia Mesa at least twice and, according to them, her statements regarding the events that led to the fatal attack were inconsistent. Detectives also found inconsistencies in Leticia Mesa's statements on whether she knew that the dog showed signs of aggression prior to the fatal attack.

According to court documents, Leticia Mesa told police she and Jazilyn were in the backyard with the dog. She originally told police the baby was walking around and may have walked up to the dog's drinking water when it attacked her, documents show.

Three days later, documents show Leticia Mesa changed her story. According to documents, Leticia Mesa said she was actually carrying the baby in the backyard when the dog tried to pull her out of her arms. Police said Leticia Mesa told them she never let go of the baby.

The autopsy of the baby shows the baby was alone with the dog when she was attacked, despite what Leticia Mesa told police. The coroner's office said the baby had drag marks and 12 to 15 bites.

"This baby was horrifically killed by a dog, dragged around and just the injuries are probably one of the most horrific kind of injuries that I've ever seen on a baby so they need to be held responsible," Orlando said.

Jazilyn Mesa's mother and maternal grandparents also expressed concern with the pit bull and, prior to the young girl's Jan. 26, 2011, birth, asked the Mesa family to get rid of the dog, according to police.

Police said when the Mesa family refused to get rid of the dog, Jazilyn's mother demanded that Tyson not be allowed anywhere near her daughter when the young girl visited the Mesa 's residence, and that the dog be kenneled when Jazilyn was visiting the home.

Detectives learned that Jazilyn's mother - who did not reside at the Mesa's home - was unaware of the dog's history of violence but was concerned for her daughter's safety because of Tyson's size, and because the dog appeared to be rambunctious and untrained.

Jesus Mesa even told police the incident could have been avoided if his mother had just followed the rule, according to the document.

Perez said he never saw any aggressive behavior from the dog. He said the attack was completely out of the family's control.

"There's pictures that show the baby with the dog at one point. This dog was a family dog just like any other dog. What can you do if the dog just lost it for an instant?" Perez said.

He told ABC-7 this is just more stress for a family who has already gone through enough.

"It's unreal. Where does this end? Where does it stop? This is nothing that was in their control," Perez said.

Shortly before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 8, Las Cruces Police were called to the Mesa's residence by a neighbor who reported hearing Leticia Mesa screaming for help. The neighbor, 69-year-old Barry Snyder, saw that the 2-year-old dog named Tyson was attacking the girl and that Leticia Mesa was trying to cover the child.

Snyder retrieved a .45 caliber handgun from his home, called 911 and went to the aid of the girl and her grandmother. Detectives learned that Snyder entered the backyard and fired the first shot as the pit bull aggressively closed distance on him. The initial shot is believed to have missed the dog and instead struck Leticia Mesa's thigh and foot.

Snyder fired four more rounds at Tyson as it ran to a side yard. Snyder followed Tyson and fired two more rounds which proved to be fatal for the 90 pound pit bull.

Jazilyn Mesa was rushed to Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces where she succumbed to her injuries. Leticia Mesa was transported to University Medical Center of El Paso.

"There are no words I can say," the baby's grandfather Arturo Mesa told ABC-7, with tears welling in his eyes in May. "I loved her dearly. She was my baby."

In May, Arturo Mesa told ABC-7 that Tyson was 2-years-old and had never bitten anyone before. He said baby Jazilyn was never allowed to be alone with Tyson. He  said he could never have imagined something like this could happen.

"The baby wanted to go outside, and play," Arturo Mesa said in May, sitting in the backyard where the baby was mauled. "So the procedure was, put the dog away because he's big, and played rough. So that's what they were doing -- taking the dog and putting it in the kennel. And it attacked."

The New Mexico medical investigator's office ruled that Jazilyn Mesa, who weighed only 23 pounds, received multiple injuries to her head, face, torso, arms and legs. All of the injuries were consistent with those of a dog attack.

Leticia Mesa was booked into the Dona Ana County Detention Center with bond set at $15,000. Bond for Arturo Mesa Sr. and Jesus Mesa was set at $10,000 each.

All three bonded out of jail on Tuesday. They did not want to give any comments when they got home.

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