Dogcatcher indicted on charges of theft, official misconduct

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lewisburg's dogcatcher was indicted Wednesday and arrested Thursday on charges of theft and official misconduct in connection with an English bulldog he allegedly took home from the animal shelter and tried to sell.

Christopher Neal Owens, 36, of Mooreland Street, Belfast, was released on $1,000 bond at the County Jail just down hill from the offices of the Lewisburg Stormwater Management Department where he's been working since his transfer from the Animal Shelter on Sept. 11.

During Aug. 13-22, Owens allegedly picked up the bulldog owned by James Ward, reportedly of Woods Avenue North, and tried to sell the animal that's valued at more than $1,000 and less than $10,000, according to three true bills of indictment made public late last week.

Owens' case was taken directly to the Marshall County Grand Jury, rather than to the General Sessions Court which would have considered the same question as the grand jurors: Is there probable cause to believe a crime had been committed and is it reasonable to believe that the accused perpetrated the act?

Owens "was very much surprised" by the grand jury's decision to issue indictments, Owens said Saturday afternoon.

Owens previously said the dog didn't have a dog tag or electronic identification chip and that he believed it was owned by the resident of Buchanan Street who called him, requesting removal of the dog.

City Manager Eddie Fuller and Police Chief Chuck Forbis said the chain of events leading to Owens' indictment was investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Marshall County Sheriff's officials also investigated, Forbis said.

An individual close to the case, speaking on a condition of anonymity, explained the situation with a comparison. Police impound lot operators can't sell those cars without affording the owners a chance to assert their claims of ownership.

Owens last week said he didn't believe he'd done anything wrong and while there are allegations that he tried to sell the dog for $1,000 or more, he's explained that he gave the dog to someone with a dog rescue group.

"There's no indication that she did anything wrong," District Attorney Chuck Crawford said of the rescue group member.

In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, the city manager repeated previous statements he'd heard from Owens: "He's confessed... that he took the dog home to sell it, to make some money. He did it for money."

As for Owens' employment situation, Fuller has said that in America, people are innocent until proved guilty.

"Now, he's in a position (a job) ... he's not handling any money," Fuller said.

The district attorney was asked if Owens' case is unique. The prosecutor who's also served as a sessions court judge in Lincoln County replied, "I've never seen that before."

The next step in Owens' case includes an arraignment that's scheduled for Oct. 7. Owens said he plans to hire an attorney, but needs to find a way to pay for legal representation.