Owner of killer pit bulls has lengthy criminal record; dogs linked to previous attacks

Photo of Peggy O’Hare

SAN ANTONIO — Three dogs euthanized after a fatal mauling that killed an elderly man and injured several other people outside a West Side home have been linked to three prior attacks on other victims, according to Animal Care Services.

The most recent attack before the deadly spree on Friday occurred earlier this month when a man suffered a severe dog bite to his lower extremities, ACS Director Shannon Sims said. That victim required medical treatment.

But that incident wasn’t connected to Friday’s fatal mauling until after the fact, when the bite victim identified one of the dogs in a photo lineup, Sims said.

Investigators have been digging into the dogs’ histories since two of those animals, both American Staffordshire terriers, escaped from their yard and viciously attacked Ramon Najera Jr., 81, killing him, and injured three other victims — his wife, Juanita “Janie” Najera, 74; a witness who tried to intervene and stop the carnage; and a San Antonio Fire Department captain who responded to calls for help.

The dogs’ owner, Christian Alexander Moreno, 31, was arrested hours later and charged with attack by a dangerous dog causing death and injury to an elderly individual by omission or negligence. Both charges are felony offenses.

Moreno remains in the Bexar County Jail on bonds totaling $125,000.

Authorities seized both dogs, along with another of Moreno’s dogs, who was also out of its yard at the time, and four puppies.

The chain link fence around Moreno’s yard “was in pretty bad disrepair,” Sims said.

The Najeras were trying to visit relatives at a house next door to Moreno’s residence in the 2800 block of Depla Street shortly before 2 p.m. Friday when two of Moreno’s dogs attacked the couple.

Some details remain unclear.

ACS said the Najeras went to their relatives’ front door, but the person they were looking for wasn’t home. The couple was returning to their car when they were mauled by the dogs, ACS reported.

Moreno’s arrest affidavits, however, state that Janie Najera was returning to the car, where her husband was waiting for her, and that she saw the two dogs attacking him. The affidavits noted that she tried to help her husband and also was injured by the dogs.

Graphic video footage recorded by a witness in a vehicle showed a bloodied Ramon Najera face down on the ground, desperately trying to get away as one of Moreno’s dogs continued to lunge and bite him, tearing off parts of his clothes. Another of Moreno’s dogs was captured on film standing in the street, barking, with blood covering its face.

Only two of the three dogs that were euthanized participated in Friday’s fatal mauling, but all three animals were involved in at least one of the previous bite cases, Sims said.

ACS said the Moreno family also had a fourth dog that was involved in “aggressive or threatening behavior” in the past, but that dog has since died. Animal control officials don’t know the circumstances surrounding that dog’s death.

The attack that killed Najera and injured his wife Friday was “absolutely” preventable, Sims said.

“These types of injuries are almost 100 percent preventable just by folks keeping their animals on their property,” Sims said. “That’s the single biggest thing. I don’t know how else to really put it — that personal responsibility of making sure your animal isn’t free of restraint.”

The Morenos “absolutely knew that these animals were off property frequently and that they had a penchant for aggression.”

Najera’s death marked the first time in nearly nine years that dogs have killed a person in San Antonio.

The last such incident occurred March 31, 2014, when Petra Aguirre, 83, was attacked by a neighbor’s two dogs — also American Staffordshire terriers — as she fed her cats in the back yard of her West Side home. The dogs crawled under a fence to reach her. Aguirre died two weeks later in a local hospital.

Both dogs that attacked Aguirre were euthanized. In 2015, the dogs’ owner was sentenced to five years in prison.

Before Friday’s carnage, ACS officials were aware of only two previous dog bite incidents involving Moreno’s dogs.

One occurred in September 2021 when a man in his mid 20s suffered minor dog bites to his hand and lower extremities, Sims said.

The other occurred on Jan. 12 when a man in his 50s suffered a moderate dog bite with puncture wounds to one of his lower extremities. ACS issued two citations to Moreno following the attack — one for the bite, another because the animal was unrestrained and roaming the neighborhood.

In both of those cases, ACS impounded Moreno’s dogs and held them in quarantine until the family reclaimed the animals. In each case, the Moreno family paid $300 in fees to get their dogs back, ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said.

Both dogs involved in Friday’s fatal mauling were recently sterilized as required by ACS and mandated by the animal control agency to wear body harnesses and be tethered when outside in the family’s yard, Moreno’s arrest affidavits show. But the video recorded Friday showed neither dog was wearing any collars or harnesses.

Previous attacks not investigated

ACS could not launch a dangerous dog investigation into either of those prior bites because no one filed a dangerous dog affidavit complaining of the animals’ behavior, Sims said.

State law requires such an affidavit to be filed by a victim of a dog bite or a direct witness of such behavior, Sims noted. ACS itself cannot file such an affidavit, he said.

“Unfortunately, without that affidavit, the longest that we can hold that animal is for (a) 10-day quarantine process — at which point, if (the owners) come to reclaim, we’re obligated by law to return their property,” Sims said.

If a dangerous dog affidavit is filed by a victim or direct witness, ACS can keep the animal in custody until the agency completes an investigation to determine if the dog is dangerous, he noted.

In cases where ACS concludes a dog is dangerous, the owner must comply with a long list of requirements to get their pet back, such as obtaining a $100,000 liability insurance policy, posting permanent signs notifying the public that a dangerous dog lives at the residence, keeping the dog in an enclosed kennel when outdoors and obtaining special leashes and muzzles that are bright florescent orange and marked with the words “Dangerous dog” whenever the animal is walked outside or taken somewhere.

The owner also is required to obtain a dangerous dog license, which must be renewed annually. The dog’s home and property are subject to inspection by ACS officials every year. And the animal must be spayed or neutered.

It was not immediately clear from ACS’ field notes if animal control officers notified the first two dog bite victims they could file dangerous dog affidavits on Moreno’s pets, Sims said.

“But it’s a matter of policy that we do, typically,” Sims said. “If it seems like the animal meets the criteria of a dangerous dog, then we would try to encourage the individual or at least ask if they would be interested” in filing such an affidavit.

All three victims injured in the previous attacks — including the incident linked to one of Moreno’s dogs after Najera’s death — called 311 to report they had been bitten, Sims said.

All three of those previous bites occurred when Moreno’s dogs left their property and encountered their victims elsewhere, the ACS director said.

“Not all of them happened directly in front of the house,” Sims said. “A couple of them were actually on other streets.”

ACS has been called “multiple times in the past” by people reporting aggressive behavior by Moreno’s dogs, according to the police affidavits supporting his arrest.

Owner’s history of crime

The house where Moreno lives with his wife and children is owned by a relative, Bexar County Appraisal District records show.

San Antonio Police Department received 39 calls for service in a 14-month period beginning Jan. 1, 2022, regarding Moreno’s residence, according to a document released by the department Monday. Only two of those calls were classified as “animal related.”

The other calls concerned 10 complaints about fireworks; several disturbances, including one involving a neighbor and another involving Child Protective Services; four calls concerning a “wanted person;” five calls concerning an abandoned vehicle; two complaints of loud music and one call reporting the sound of a gunshot. All of those calls occurred before Friday’s fatal mauling.

Moreno and his wife previously lived in Castroville.

Moreno has a lengthy criminal record in Medina County, including arrests dating back to 2009 for criminal trespassing, possession of a controlled substance, evading arrest or detention, hindering apprehension or prosecution and felony theft of property valued at or more than $2,500 but less than $30,000.

The felony drug possession charge was reduced to a Class A misdemeanor in 2011, for which Moreno was given deferred adjudication and placed on probation for two years, Medina County records show. He was ordered to attend weekly Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and to obtain his high school diploma or general equivalency degree, according to Medina County’s online records.

His probation term was later extended to three years, which he completed in 2014, according to Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history records.

Moreno also was granted deferred adjudication for the hindering apprehension or prosecution charge and the felony theft charge. He was placed on six months of probation in 2018 for the hindering charge and four years of probation in 2020 for the theft charge. A motion to revoke his probation on the theft charge has been filed with the court, Medina County records show.

The charges of criminal trespassing and evading arrest or detention were dismissed.

Moreno also ran afoul of the law in Bexar County before Friday’s deadly dog mauling. In 2019, he was arrested by San Antonio police on a Class B misdemeanor charge of theft of property valued at or more than $100 but less than $750, for which he was convicted and received six months of probation, Texas DPS criminal history records show.

In December 2021, Moreno was charged in Bexar County with theft at or more than $750 but less than $2,500. Last month, his bond on that charge was increased from $3,500 to $7,000, Bexar County court records show. Moreno made bond and was released from jail on Feb. 1. That case is still pending.

Attempts to reach Moreno’s attorney, Michael D. Goains, were not immediately successful.

Moreno’s wife, Abilene, has proclaimed her husband’s innocence on her Facebook page, where she wrote that they were not abusing or neglecting their pets. She also wrote a post questioning if dog owners were arrested for an unrelated dog attack that injured a child in another state.

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