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Judge dismisses felony for service dog's death

Wire • Feb 8, 2013 at 3:07 PM

A Summit County judge has dismissed the most serious charge against a Medina County woman accused of fraudulent veterinary work and causing the death of a Persian Gulf War veteran’s service dog.

The stunning dismissal, which occurred late Wednesday when the state rested its case and the defense then disputed each charge in what had been a 13-count indictment, played out over a full day of court proceedings.

Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher, hearing the case against Brandi A. Tomko without a jury, ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict her in connection with the death of Robert McGee’s service dog Allie — 10 months after Allie’s first visit to the clinic where Tomko had worked.

“I don’t think there was evidence that the bad medical advice given by the defendant caused the dog’s death 10 months later,” Gallagher said from the bench in his 4 p.m. ruling.

Along with the service dog charge, Gallagher also dismissed four other counts against Tomko for lack of evidence.

The shrinking indictment now contains eight counts.

Prosecutors had moved for dismissal of 27 counts before the trial.

McGee, who was present for Gallagher’s ruling, sat weeping in the front row of the public gallery and, afterward, declined to comment.

The unusual defense win came after six hours of often emotional testimony.

McGee, 48, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe arthritis in his lower back, walked into the courtroom with his new service dog, Sam, at his side.

He then testified Allie died after she was treated by Tomko for diabetes and bladder dysfunction.

Allie was 5 years old when she died in October 2011 after a series of debilitating seizures.

“She just finally laid down, went to sleep and she never woke up,” McGee said, his voice faltering.

Tomko, 36, had been charged initially in a 40-count indictment for her allegedly fraudulent work at Akron’s C&D Animal Hospital on Brittain Road.

She is not a licensed veterinarian or a licensed vet tech, but had prescribed insulin treatments for Allie.

The most serious charge was a third-degree felony for assaulting or harassing a service dog. It carried a potential prison sentence of one to three years if she had been convicted.

McGee said on the stand he had no doubt it was Tomko who treated Allie in the first visit to C&D, Jan. 5, 2011.

He went on to identify Tomko, who was seated to his right at the defense table about 15 feet away.

McGee even recalled Tomko wearing a white lab coat when she walked into the treatment room.

“She just took one look at [Allie], without putting a hand on her, and said she was diabetic based on the amount of urine on the floor,” McGee said.

When McGee was asked why he didn’t take Allie to another vet, after her seizures continued for many months in the midst of the insulin treatments, he told Gallagher: “I assumed Ms. Tomko was a vet and she knew what she was doing, and evidently that was not the case.”

Minutes later, his direct testimony ended.

But under cross-examination by John Greven, Tomko’s lawyer, Greven called into question McGee’s seemingly precise identification of Tomko.

A major building block of the defense, Greven said in opening statements, was the argument that other veterinarians and technicians had worked at C&D while Tomko was there.

Greven argued there was no solid proof it was Tomko who was solely responsible for the fraudulent work.

In fact, Melissa M. Fisher, who is a licensed vet in Ohio, said she worked at C&D at the same time McGee took Allie there.

Fisher testified further that she quit on Feb. 23, 2011 — close to seven weeks after Allie’s first visit.

When Greven told McGee what Fisher recalled — working on a diabetic service dog — Greven then asked if Fisher could have been correct that she treated Allie.

“No,” McGee said firmly.

Afterward, outside of court during the lunch break, McGee insisted he was not mistaken.

As he stood in a third-floor hallway of the courthouse, with Sam sitting calmly by his side, McGee said he was “absolutely certain” it was Tomko who worked on Allie.

“The biggest thing I recognized immediately was this little spot on her chin, and her saying, specifically, her name was Brandi,” McGee said.

Tomko has an easily visible birthmark on her face, just above the right corner of her upper lip.

McGee also testified that he found out Tomko was not a licensed vet when another Akron man, Kenny Reymann, began an Internet campaign against Tomko after his 12-year-old dog, Charlie, died from kidney problems after treatment at C&D.

Reymann stressed that Tomko was the only worker who dealt with Charlie.

Asked how he felt when he discovered the extensive online materials compiled by Reymann, McGee said he was “extremely angry” with Tomko.

As he said that, Sam — a 6-year-old Samoyed and Labrador mix breed — sat at his feet below the witness box.

Tomko, three attorneys, an Akron police investigator, several Cleveland television crews and about a dozen spectators were present when McGee made his entrance — with Sam never once making a sound or nervous reaction.


Ed Meyer - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

©2013 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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