Animal Rights

2 Pit Bull Owners Charged with Felonies Over San Diego Attack

| by Denise A Justin

The mother and daughter who owned the two pit bulls which savagely attacked 75-year-old Emako Mendoza on June 18 in her Paradise Hills yard will face a preliminary hearing in San Diego court on July 15, 2011.

Alba Medina Cornelio, 39, and her 19-year-old daughter, Carla Ramirez Cornelio, who were neighbors of the Mendozas, both face up to three years and eight months in prison if they are convicted of two felony counts each for owning dogs that caused serious bodily injury and three misdemeanor counts of failing to protect the public from a dog, knowingly owning a dangerous dog and violation of leash laws in failing to properly restrain the dogs.  The women are being held on $350,000 bail each. 

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the women were arrested at their Alleghany Street home.  Carla Cornelio told authorities that her mother was at work but she was found hiding in a closet, said Lt. Dan DeSousa of San Diego Department of Animal Services.

Emako Mendoza’s left leg was amputated below the knee and her left arm had to be removed below the elbow, said San Diego Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey.  The victim has also had surgery on her right leg because of the infection which developed from the severe dog bites.

Harvey had argued for $900,000 bail each, claiming that the Cornelios pose a flight risk because they own a home in Mexico.  Alba Cornelio is a Mexican national.  A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that she is on an immigration hold and the agency is determining whether she is subject to deportation.

Defense Attorney Donovan Dominion had requested bail be lowered to $100,000 each, stating that Alba Cornelio has lived in the United States for 19 years and is supported by her two children here.  He described the women as, “traumatized” by what happened to Emako Mendoza, and said, “They certain have never ever in their lives been out to harm anybody,” he told

The dogs forced their way through an opening in the fence separating the yard of Emako and James Mendoza and the Cornelios and attacked the fragile, elderly woman when she went out to retrieve the newspaper at 6:30 a.m. James Mendoza had placed a barbed-wire barrier over the area because he was afraid of the dogs, which had attacked a man walking his poodle puppy on December 25, 2010.

In the prior incident, the puppy was badly hurt and the owner sustained minor wounds, but charges were not pressed because the Cornelios agreed to pay the veterinary bills. DeSousa stated that the San Diego Animal Control could not cite or arrest in case of a misdemeanor unless they had witnessed the attack.

“We are of the opinion that [incident] should have put the Cornelios on notice of their responsibilities to take every precaution so that their dogs were unable to get off their property and cause harm to another animal or person.”

DeSousa continued, “Because of their failure, Ms. Mendoza has suffered horrific injuries.  The two dogs and the puppies have paid the ultimate price.  We hold the Cornelios responsible for their inactions.”

The attack on Ms. Mendoza involved two six-year-old female pit bulls, one of which had just had eleven puppies.  All were relinquished to San Diego Animal Control and euthanized.  The officials reported that during the quarantine period the dogs continued to act aggressively. 

According to, Defense Attorney Donovan Dunnion stated, “It would be speculation to say that one of the dogs having puppies contributed to the attack on Mendoza…The dog’s been a docile, caring dog throughout its entire life.”

San Diego County code allows residents to maintain six adult dogs per household, plus puppies under four months of age are not counted.  At the time of the attack, in addition to the Pit Bulls,  the Cornelios also had four Chihuahuas at the residence, but DeSousa stated they were not on the premises at the time the women were arrested.

James Mendoza says he sleeps a little better now that the women and dogs are gone, but he is still angry about the incident.  Emako remains in serious condition and was still on a breathing tube at the time of the report.  James said he does not believe his wife of 53 years recognizes him.