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Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D.

Website author

Expert Witness for the defense

Animal Behavior Counseling Services, Inc.

Los Angeles, CA.

Q. Why did Bane go berserk?

A. Frequently during trial Ruiz argued that Knoller was not responsible for the death of Whipple because Bane unexpectedly went “berserk”. Albeit, not very technical, using this term probably was probably sufficient to get across the point.

From a more technical vantage point, one needs to ask why Bane behaved in such a vicious manner towards Whipple? It was out of his character, at least based on his past behavioral responding. Ruiz knew the technical answer to this question. Specifically, the defense team had knowledge of the technical literature in animal behavior, particularly as it pertains to aggression in dogs and how the behavior of the victim feeds into a dog’s aggressive reactivity.

Note that prior to the attack on Whipple, Bane had ample opportunity to severely attack a person but did not do so. For example, just two weeks before the incident with Whipple, ironically in the very same hallway, he charged another neighbor, Henry Putchik, who was, much like Whipple, in front of his apartment door. Putchik, unlike Whipple, in response to Bane’s threatening behavior, immediately froze. Bane lost interest and returned to Noel who was at his apartment doorway. Prior to this, there were other aggressive charges of Bane towards people; for example, US postal delivery people in front of the apartment building

Bane in an undated photo
It is likely that the change in behavior of Bane towards Whipple after he charged can only be explained in terms of the dynamics of the behavioral interchange that happened between the dog, Whipple and Knoller. There was undoubtedly heightened emotional reactivity occurring between all parties and this heightened emotional state was the impetus that led to the disinhibition of Bane’s aggressive reactivity. Prior to this, Bane’s viciousness towards people had always been inhibited. The two bites which supposedly occurred – one towards David Moser and one previous bite towards Whipple herself – were probably reflective of bite inhibition on the part of Bane.

In short, the disinhibition Bane’s aggression towards Whipple can most reasonably be explained in terms of the behavior of Knoller and Whipple. Each of their actions contributed to creating a heightened emotional state in Bane, albeit transient, which significantly impacted him making it possible for him to become sufficiently aroused to attack in a frenzy and uninhibited matter. In other words, the dog became extremely “worked up”, or in the terms of Ruiz he went “berserk”.

Ruiz, based on her understanding of the technical literature about dog attacks and the role victim behavior plays facilitating such attacks, Ruiz suspected that Whipple’s conduct at the time she encountered Bane was one plausible explanation of what made him go berserk. Ruiz also knew that Whipple was extremely frightened of Bane and that she did not like the dog. It is likely that Whipple acted in a defensively and possibly in a potentially provocative manner during the first few moments of her encounter with Bane. Hence, the defense probably knew that Whipple herself may have played some role in bringing on the vicious attack from Bane.

The defense team also knew that they could not ever suggest this possibility to the jury. They knew that this tactic would backfire on them, as it does in most murder cases – that is, blaming the victim. Ruiz suggested this early in trial and later came to realize that it was probably a mistake. Hence, the defense knew they needed to further avoid this at all costs. At the point when Polsky entered into detailed behavioral discussions with the defense, both Ruiz and Hotchkiss had become very sensitive to this issue and wanted to avoid any suggestion that Whipple was in any way, shape or form responsible for her own death.

Bane did not go berserk but rather reacted in a predictable fashion given his temperament, his past experience and the momentary emotional circumstances he encountered. Had both Whipple and Knoller been more emotionally collected when the incident started, it’s conceivable that Bane would have never become sufficiently aroused to attack Whipple in an uninhibited, frenzied manner. Conceivably, it can be speculated, that if Whipple froze, or acted much like Henry Putchik did when he encountered Bane in the same hallway one week prior, then Bane’s aggressive arousal would not have become sufficiently engendered. Conceivably, it can also be speculated, that if Whipple did not strike Knoller in the eye, as Knoller claims, Bane would not have attacked in such a vicious manner. The upshot of all this is that Bane did not attack because he went “berserk”. An explanation like this is far too unscientific. Rather, a better explanation needs to be couched in terms of heightened emotional reactivity in Bane, generated jointly through the actions of both Whipple and Knoller. If both were more emotionally collected when they came together, then it is possible that Diane Whipple would still be with us today.