A homeless man who was charged with abusing his eight-pound Chihuahua was acquitted this week in a case his lawyers say smacks of "stereotyping." And now, the question is whether he can get “Aubrey” back from the restaurateur who first reported the alleged punching, kicking and throwing in the first place.
The San Francisco Public Defender’s office doesn’t know the answer just yet, as 57-year-old Morris Varian was acquitted of one count of animal abuse on Tuesday by a jury who deliberated in 40 minutes. Varian, a Filipino immigrant who speaks only Tagalog, asked to keep a low-profile and declined an interview through his attorneys.
"We do want to help him get his dog back," public defender spokeswoman Tamara Barack Aparton told NBC Bay Area.
For now, Aubrey was adopted by Glenn Meyers, the man who first made the allegations. Meyers co-owns High Flying Foods in San Francisco. The family-run cafes can be found at airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego. Meyers was not immediately available for comment on Thursday, by phone. The email provided on his company website was not in working order.
A representative from the San Francisco District Attorney's Office was not immediately available on Thursday for comment.
But, as Deputy Public Defender Abigal Riamonte sees it, Varian has been vindicated.
“Mr. Varian lost his beloved pet and was thrown in jail simply because someone stereotyped him based on his appearance,” Rivamonte said. “He was homeless, and that plastic bag was his dog carrier. Let's be honest, this was not a Luis Vuitton purse. If you see a dog in a plastic bag, that caused people to judge him."
And this is how her office tells his tale: On Feb. 9, 2012, Varian was walking in San Francisco on Mission Street carrying his belongings in an open plastic garbage bag. His 2-year-old Chihuahua was perched on his bag, her head sticking out. He and his pup had just moved out of his brother’s home in Sunnyvale. It was Aubrey’s first trip to the big city.
Suddenly, Aubrey jumped from the bag. Varian raced to the street to retrieve her. She did it again, near Yerba Buena Gardens. This time, she nearly hit a wall. Like an angry and concerned parent, Varian grabbed Aubrey and disciplined her by swatting the scruff of her neck two times.
At that moment, Meyers “snatched” Aubrey from Varian and called police, according to the public defender. Meyers told officers that he saw Varian "throw Aubrey against a wall, punch her in the head with a closed fist, slap her repeatedly and try to suffocate her in the plastic bag," according to police reports and court testimony.
Varian told police he loves Aubrey and would never hurt her, according to testimony.
But police sided with Meyers. Aubrey was taken to a veterinarian. And Varian was taken to jail, where he spent 37 days.
At trial, the veterinarian who examined Aubrey testified she found no injuries that would be consistent with the attack that Meyers described. Dr. Benjamin Hart of the University of California at Davis Veterinary School testified that video captured by a surveillance camera immediately following the incident does not show Aubrey behaving like a dog that was just abused because she is acting friendly and active.
A security guard testified that he checked the footage from all the cameras around Yerba Buena and did not see any video of Varian abusing his dog.
Varian’s brother testified that he tried to reclaim Aubrey from the shelter two weeks later and was denied because the case was still open. When the family tried again after another month, they were told Aubrey had been adopted by Meyers.