Fatal dog mauling of girl in Detroit: Pet owner charged with murder

33-year-old man in custody since fatal attack

DETROIT – A man is charged with murder after a 9-year-old girl was mauled to death by three pit bull dogs earlier this week in Southwest Detroit.

Emma Hernandez was killed in the attack Monday evening in Southwest Detroit. She was riding her bicycle in the area of Central Avenue and Smart Street when the three pit bulls escaped from a neighbor's yard, police said.

Pierre Cleveland at his arraignment on Aug. 22, 2019. (WDIV)

Those dogs belonged to Pierre Cleveland, 33, according to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Cleveland is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a dangerous animal causing death. He was arraigned Thursday afternoon.

You can watch the full arraignment at the top of the page.

Cleveland is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

He is scheduled to return to 36th District Court on Aug. 30 for a probable cause conference and Sept. 6 for a preliminary examination.

"She was a very happy child and she is going to be very, very missed," said Claudia Stapleton, Hernandez's aunt. "This was her neighborhood. She should be able to play and do what every kid does -- walk around, ride their bikes. They shouldn't be afraid to be in their own neighborhood."

Cleveland was taken into police custody Monday night. Detroit police sent a warrant package to prosecutors on Tuesday and charges were announced Thursday. 

"On Aug. 19, 2019 at 4:03 p.m. in the alley of a location in the 6030 block of Central Avenue, (Emma) was riding her bicycle with her 13-year-old brother when she was fatally attacked by three pit bulls," reads a statement from the Prosecutor's Office. "A male neighbor threw bricks at the dogs in an attempt to stop them from attacking the child. The child was observed with multiple bite wounds on her body.  Medics were called to the scene, rendered medical assistance, and transported the victim to a local hospital where she was pronounced deceased. Defendant Cleveland was the next door neighbor and owner of the three pit bulls that attacked the victim. On Aug. 19, 2019, before the fatal attack, it is alleged that the defendant left the dogs that he knew were dangerous, loose and unsecured in the backyard of his home while he went to a nearby store. Investigation of the location revealed that the fence that lined the yard was damaged and not secure. There was also a garage side door that was open and led to the alley where the victim was attacked. Further facts and evidence in the case will be presented in court at the preliminary examination."

Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy released this statement: 

"It is horrible to imagine what Emma went through as she was being mauled to death by vicious dogs allegedly owned by the defendant. It is high time that the City of Detroit shines a light on the owners of these dangerous animals that sometimes roam and wreak serious havoc -- none worse than what happened here."

Emma Hernandez, 9, was killed Aug. 19, 2019 by a pack of dogs in Southwest Detroit. (WDIV)


Animal Control received previous complaint about dogs

Animal Control officials said they intend to euthanize the dogs. One of the dogs was shot on scene by a neighbor and died of its injuries. The two others were examined by Animal Control and are scheduled to be put down Friday or Saturday. 

Overall, Animal Control said they collected 4,500 animals last year including dogs, cats, reptiles, bats. They did get a complaint about the house with the dogs that attacked Emma in March of last year. The department says officers went to the home and were not able to get in contact with the owner after calls and a visit. They did not receive any complaints since then from neighbors until the incident on Monday, they said. 

MORE: Viewing and funeral plans 

Witnesses describe vicious dog attack

"The little girl had the side of her neck hanging off and she was not conscious," Deborah Golden said.

"I went outside, I saw three dogs on top of a little girl. I had no hesitation but to run, so I picked up a brick and threw it at the dogs," Edward Cruz said. "It was painful. I don't like it one bit. I hate it that it happened to her. (Her father) jumps over the fence and he's literally screaming, 'My baby, my baby,' crying, just crying."

"I tilted her head and had her dad hold the side of her neck and put a T-shirt on the side of her neck," Golden said.

An ambulance rushed the girl to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

"It's hard for me not to cry. It's tough, real tough. You're talking a 9-year-old girl who was just playing and now she's not here," Cpt. Russell Solano with Detroit police said.

The father of a 9-year-old girl who was mauled to death by three pit bulls in Detroit got into an argument with the owner of the dogs about them roaming in the area, according to family members.