News & Politics

Did a Neighborhood Beef Lead to Cops Seizing This Man’s Dog?

The owner of Little Miss Whiskey's and Jimmy Valentine's is suing the cops and the Washington Humane Society to get his dog back—and help settle a lingering feud with a neighborhood politician.

Little Miss Whiskey's. Photograph by Flickr user Chris Conroy.

The owner of two bars in Northeast DC is suing the District government, a DC police officer, and the Washington Humane Society over an incident last week in which he was arrested inside his home. He says the charges stem from a lingering beef with a neighborhood official whom he previously sued for libel. And his lawyer says the suit merely aims to get his dog back.

Mark Thorp, who owns Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street and Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road, was arrested last Wednesday and charged with possession of an illegal drug with intent to distribute and cruelty toward an animal. Thorp was released on bond on Thursday, and one of the conditions of his release is that he stay away from any domestic animals.

That would include his pet doberman, Vaughn, who is now in the custody of the Washington Humane Society. Thorp’s lawsuit names WHS a co-defendant because the group will not give him a hearing to get the dog back.

The complaint, filed Monday in US District Court, alleges that three police officers entered Thorp’s house from three points, withouth knocking, to investigate allegations of animal abuse. So-called “no-knock” searches are often considered unconstitutional when police officers have no reasonable belief their safety will be threatened by executing a warrant. Thorp’s suit then says the lead officer, Lieutenant Ramey Kyle, seized the dog as evidence despite not finding any evidence of abuse. The suit says Kyle, who it names as a co-defendant, continued the search by looking for illegal substances.

“After finding no evidence of animal cruelty, Defendant Kyle began opening closed containers within the Plaintiff’s residence, and began ‘field testing’ capsules he found therein for illegal drugs,” the complaint reads. “Such searches by Defendant Kyle exceeded the limited scope of the defective animal cruelty warrant authorized by the Superior Court. After claiming one such capsule he found inside a closed container to have tested positive for amphetamines, Defendant Kyle sought an additional search warrant from the Superior Court for the capsules he had already obtained through his initial illegal search of the Plaintiff’s residence.”

Kyle did not return a phone message seeking clarification on his role in Thorp’s arrest. Thorp’s lawyer, Matthew LaFande, argues his client is incapable of harming Vaughn.

“This is a dog that he just paid $2,000 for,” LaFande says. “He takes the dog to the vet once a month.”

But the case turns from an allegedly excessive display of police force toward something truly bizarre when Thorp’s complaint starts laying out some possible contributing factors to the dog-and-pill bust. Thorp argues that Kyle conspired with Kathy Henderson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the Carver-Langston section and a Northeast DC political gadfly. The police officer, the suit says, “has regularly communicated with Henderson via email, telephone, internet ‘blog’ postings and in person since the time of the judgment against her.”

Thorp won a libel judgment against Henderson in December 2012 over malicious internet comments and false public testimony she made about Jimmy Valentine’s in 2008, about a year after Thorp opened the faux dive bar. (It has faded signage and no telephone number but features an extensive craft-beer selection.) Among her debunked complaints were allegations of excessive trash in the alley behind the bar, dogs eating garbage out front, and that Thorp was not running a “family-oriented business.” Investigators from the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration testified otherwise, saying that Jimmy Valentine’s was sanitary about its waste and that, for a bar, it incurred very few citations.

Henderson, who did not respond to an e-mail inquiry, was ordered by a judge in DC Superior Court to pay Thorp $141,000 in damages and legal fees but so far has not coughed up a dime, LaFande says. Although Henderson is not named as a co-defendant in the new lawsuit, Thorp’s complaint does make note of a rental property she owns in Columbia Heights that has been documented as an asset that could potentially be seized by US Marshals in order to make restitution. But according to LaFande, one of the other big reasons Henderson is not back as a defendant this time is to spare any potential courtroom theatrics.

“I have a $141,000 judgment against her,” he says. “I refuse to provide her with another soap box to stand on. There’s no remedy I can obtain from her I didn’t obtain in a previous lawsuit. At the moment, we just want the dog back.”

Read Thorp’s full complaint below:

Thorp Complaint

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.