Why Was Deb Zerafa Fired?

Deb Zerafa was a loved and respected animal control officer in Grand Traverse County. She fought the administrative battles to secure funding and better working conditions for her department. Then, one day, she arrived at work to find she was placed on administrative leave. She was shell-shocked. Several days later, Grand Traverse County officials released a report that attempts to justify her termination.

The only problem is, the report doesn’t justify anything.

It seems that Grand Traverse County has played a game of Harvey Silvergate’s “Three Felonies a Day” — who quoted Stalin operative Lavrentiy Beria to say, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” Basically, that you can look at anyone’s behavior and find a crime to accuse them of, even if they haven’t done anything.

Allegations of a hostile environment

This article from Pet Friends Magazine has more to say. They say that Zerafa complained about a hostile working environment. They said she was placed on leave right after she complained.

Exceptions to the search and seizure rules

The offenses they allege that Zerafa committed include Fourth Amendment violations. The Fourth Amendment basically says that law enforcement can’t interfere with someone’s rights if the person isn’t doing anything wrong. They accuse Zerafa of entering onto people’s property without the lawful right.

So here’s the problem with that. There are several exceptions to search and seizure rules that apply to justify Zerafa’s conduct even if the facts are exactly as the county says. They are:

Hot Pursuit – If a furball runs into the neighbor’s yard, you can chase them. There are no sanctuaries or olly, olly, oxen frees when law enforcement is in hot pursuit of you or your pet. (Just like you’re not “safe” from drunk driving if only you can make it back to your driveway before the police stop you.)

Emergency – Animal control can step in and help a furball before they suffer physically or emotionally. And isn’t that exactly what we want our animal control officers to do?

Plain Sight – If the law enforcement officer is someplace they’re legally allowed to be and they see a violation, they don’t have to pretend they didn’t see it.

Permission/Consent – Law enforcement can enter onto the property if the person with authority over the property says they can.

Honest Mistake – Finally, there’s no way Zerafa violated anyone’s rights intentionally. Animal control matters happen in real time. Zerafa doesn’t have the time to go consult with a lawyer or Monday-morning quarterback the situation about what she should do before a little furball runs around another corner. Officials don’t cite enough instances to show a repetitive pattern. Rather, they show that they found a thing or two that they think they can hang their hat on to justify a dismissal.

My guess is, these exceptions to the search and seizure laws more than justify Zerafa’s conduct from a legal CYA standpoint. In any event, it seems absurd to be firing Zerafa for what in the worst-case scenario amounts to a few honest mistakes over a long period of time. It does not appear that these mistakes open the county up to any kind of financial liability. At best, the county might be kind to waive someone’s fee for impounding a furry friend, but that’s about it. Let’s not forget that animal control officers deal with horrific cases of animal abuse and neglect. To have her actions fly-speecked after the fact by officials who aren’t there to experience it with her and who obviously have an agenda is wrong on lots of levels.

Is Grand Traverse County going to pay Zerafa’s “victims?”

There’s not a lot of legal authority out there about search and seizure when it comes to animal control. It doesn’t sound like the county has been sued for anything Zerafa allegedly did. It sounds like if the county believes that Zerafa has violated constitutional rights, the county might agree to pay out $$ to what must be traumatized victims? I doubt it.

I think the fact that they’re kitchen sinking everything they can possibly use to justify termination of Zerafa is indicative of the fact that they don’t really have anything. If Zerafa really did one thing to justify her dismissal, the report would be about one thing. But the fact that they’re throwing everything out there to see what sticks is a sign that she really hasn’t done anything to warrant the actions that the county officials have taken.

And what about the rest of the county employees and law enforcement?

Time sheets and mileage – I bet if we looked at any other employee’s time sheets and mileage reports, we could find errors. Private sector or public sector – never making a mistake in recording or reporting is just unreasonable. HR departments make reporting errors all the time. A mistake is a far cry from fraud. There’s also the question of what the expectations were – Are county employees to record the actual time worked, or if they’re salaried, do they just need to record the hours worked in order to complete the paperwork to get paid? If the expectation was the later, it’s not fair or honest to change that expectation after the fact.

And what about not fully devoting your energy to your job? Isn’t that cheating? Like reading this website on county time? Isn’t that just as bad? And yet, some of you do it.

They call Zerafa’s conduct deceitful, but there’s no indication of whether she had some kind of intent for financial gain from making the reports. I would expect the latter to have any action taken against a public employee.

The fact that Grand Traverse County is hanging on constitutional Fourth Amendment violations to justify doing anything to anyone is hilarious. This is the county sheriff’s department that’s one of the last departments in history of ancient America to refuse in-car dash cams, because well, they’re so good they don’t need them. And selective prosecution is a Grand Traverse County law enforcement specialty — If the police like you, they help you hide your drunk driving or they treat it as a medical situation.

Can we have a new rule that any law enforcement officer gets canned for any Fourth Amendment violation, ever? And can we have a public committee to review each and every interaction for a potential violation, as you’ve done for Zerafa? You know, since the county takes these things so seriously. (sarcasm)

Where do we go from here?

My heart breaks for Zerafa. I believe that she was unfairly targeted. Perhaps this is a warning shot about dissent in the Alger administration. And what about private citizens? What happens to us when we upset the wrong people?

How are we supposed to vote on the upcoming animal control mileage? At this point, I would follow Zerafa’s recommendation about whether to vote for it or not.

NEW: Deb Zerafa Receives Support From Community Protesters

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8 thoughts on “Why Was Deb Zerafa Fired?”

  1. On March 25th. A sunday afternoon .I witnessed the animal control truck being driven by a individual from the sheriffs department. Do they take the truck when ever they chose too. Are there other employees that have access to the truck? I wonder how many times someone borrowed the truck and deb took the blame.

    1. I did not work that day so it was Jon Brown or someone else driving the animal control truck??? BTW I’ve never seen a police officer drive or borrow the truck….

      1. Your date was wrong. I was on call Sunday 5/27 & was on 2 calls, which came in from dispatch. I worked from 10:30 to 2:30 am

  2. Nate Alger doesn’t take charge as Administrator until July 1. This situation started way before Nate was even hired. The Health Department oversees Animal Control. They initiated the investigation and leave for Deb Zerafa. Put the blame where it belongs.

  3. Deb is outspoken and thinks outside the box loving and caring for every animal and exposing others in her political circle who were under scrutiny for breaking the law. She didn’t play political games but spoke what she believed to be true. Her personality is compassionate and independent and intimidates those who are less.

  4. Whoever has this site, please contact me and thank you for your comments. I’ve spent my whole life cultivating & building a reputation of honesty & integrity and these accusations have destroyed my impeccable record! I’ve never been fired from any job ever, only promoted because of my outstanding work ethic and accomplishments. This was so WRONG ON EVERY LEVEL!!

  5. Deb Zerafa entered my residence, and removed my dog from the site with no legal authority. She sat on the case for 2 weeks, and amazingly enough found time to come out to the site when she had scheduled a ride along with a reporter from 7 and 4 news, doing a piece on animals left out in the cold. Zerafa then removed the dog from the property, and harbored it IN THE ACCUSERS OWN HOME. That’s right, after sitting on the case for 2 weeks it was a sudden emergency. She made up allegations that the dog was in poor health, that he had frost bite, and that he had not been fed. However all her evidence showed a happy, healthy dog, and to the point the dog NEVER RECEIVED ANY TREATMENT after she confiscated the dog. The dog was checked over and was just impounded for more than 3 mo.

    In subsequent reports I have read about our case, there are allegations that Zerafa asked the cop to go along with a story that said the dog had gotten off the chain. When I spoke with her directly (only after she had already impounded the dog) I told her that if she didn’t release my dog, because she had illegally seized him, that we were going to get the dog back and that we were going to make an example of her. I told her it was an open and shut case, and that the dog was in perfect health.

    There WERE some local ordinances that I was guilty and ignorant of not following. But I got arrested, my dog got confiscated, and I had to get a lawyer over MINOR infractions. All it would have taken was a warning to get me to comply. INSTEAD, she blows it out of proportion and works off of our neighbors lies about us without any investigation. She herself lied about us, and turns it into a criminal case.

    Well, guess what? We were able to strike a “deal” with the prosecutor. This deal was basically the least possible thing they could do. They gave me my dog back, they dropped all charges, and didn’t make me go to trial over this obvious and grotesque overstep.

    In response to the article, yes, if a cop also receives multiple infractions over 4th amendment rights violations they should also be fired. If that’s not happening, put your efforts to that case, not to pushing all guilt from everyone. 4th amendment is what protected my family and I from this.

    I do not doubt that Zerafa did a lot of good for the community. I do believe she was most likely very good with animals. I’m sure most of her work was credible. HOWEVER, if you overstep your authority, multiple times, than there are consequences. If I’m the sponsor of a yearly food drive, and I rob a bank…guess what? I go to jail for robbing a bank…doing good does not mean I can do whatever I want!

    There is plenty of hard evidence against Zerafa. With the emotions that are displayed in this case, the only way anyone can side with Zerafa is to claim conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists are a dime a dozen. Reality has checked in.

    And as I said to her already, stay off my property. If you can’t get a warrant, and have to make up stories to justify your coming onto my property, I’ll fight you every time. Maybe you never encountered someone who knew their rights, but here you are. You could have just released my dog and been done with it. I would have even paid a fine, because I was in violation of a small, local infraction. I predicted this to you, and you ignored me as if I was just some schmuck. Citizens are not schmucks, we have rights. This is my rights in action.

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