FAIRFIELD — A mother, the wife of an airman at Travis Air Force Base who fled her husband in December after months of alleged abuse, had a felony charge thrown out of court by a judge who said the case brought against her included the most disturbing set of facts he had heard in his decade on the bench.
Judge Robert Bowers was talking about more than what led up to the alleged crime that prosecutors insisted Shanika N. Keiffer committed. He was also talking about what authorities have done to Keiffer and her young son that culminated Friday in Bowers’ courtroom at Keiffer’s probable cause hearing.
“Enough is enough,” Bowers said repeatedly, responding to the prosecutor’s pursuit of a felony charge.
The Solano County District Attorney’s Office filed a felony animal cruelty charge against Keiffer in March. Police in Montana arrested her, took her infant son and put him into foster care. Prosecutors extradited her to Solano County, where she was jailed.
Authorities in Montana turned the baby over to his father. While locked up, Keiffer was so despondent she tried to hang herself, her defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nick Filloy, told Bowers.
Isolated and alone
Keiffer and her husband were assigned to Travis shortly before she gave birth their son in December 2012. Military police soon became familiar with the couple because they were repeatedly called out to their home in base housing because of the husband allegedly threatening abuse, an investigator testified.
Keiffer, who grew up in foster care in rural West Virginia, had no job, no car and no family or friends in California. She also had mental health problems but stopped taking her medications while she was pregnant and while breastfeeding her newborn, Filloy said.
In September 2013, Keiffer’s airman husband got a puppy. They named it Scout.
Two months later, after her husband smashed down the front door of their home, military police ordered him out of the home and issued a no-contact order, keeping him away from Keiffer. He took his truck, moved into the airman barracks and gave her $40 to live on for a month until she was able move to Montana with her son.
During the month that she was alone with her son and the dog, she repeatedly contacted the husband’s master sergeant, telling him she did not have food or money. She told him she was feeding the dog table scraps and that the baby was being sustained with breastfeeding. In December, the master sergeant arranged to get her the truck and $241 and she left California, an investigator testified.
She left the dog behind.
‘I feel truly bad for her victimization’
A neighbor found the dog in the feces-littered backyard of Keiffer’s home. The dog looked underfed, its ribs were showing and it had outgrown the harness it had been wearing for weeks. When the harness was cut off, an infected chafing wound was uncovered.
Solano County animal control officers took the dog, which was treated by a veterinarian.
When Keiffer’s husband moved back home, he figured Keiffer had taken the dog with her. It wasn’t until investigators contacted him that he found out otherwise. He insisted the dog had been healthy when he had been ordered out of the home, an investigator testified.
Bowers, an Army veteran, said it was unconscionable that Keiffer had been put into the position of surviving on $40 with her newborn.
Near the end of the hearing, Bowers spent several minutes asking Keiffer questions. Keiffer said she had barely been able to care for her child before she got to Montana to start a new life. She said in the days before she moved, she had wanted nothing to do with the dog that she left in the backyard.
The prosecutor was unswayed.
“I understand she is a victim. I feel truly bad for her victimization,” the prosecutor told Bowers while insisting to the end that Keiffer should stand trial on the felony charge.
Bowers showed clear disdain at the prosecutor’s adamancy.
“The more I have heard the more disturbed I am,” Bowers said of the case before dismissing it.
Bowers said the dog had been neglected, but that Keiffer had been unable to care for it, so no crime had been committed.
Filloy said he expects Keiffer will soon be able to make her way back to Montana with her son. But in the meantime, with nowhere else to stay, she has no choice but to return to the home she fled.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.