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Ex-dogcatcher placed on probation

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lewisburg's disgraced dogcatcher has agreed to serve two years of supervised probation as a result of his arrest on charges of theft and official misconduct.

Neal Owens, 36, of Belfast, the former animal control officer who took an English bulldog home in hopes of selling it for his own profit, was granted a pretrial diversion by the District Attorney's Office and Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler.

A Buchanan Street resident called the animal shelter about the bulldog, asking that it be removed. Owens took the dog home from the shelter without paying the $71 adoption fee. After officials realized what happened, he was transferred to the stormwater office Sept. 11 and the next month he was told he could resign or be fired. Owens quit.

State prosecutors have discretion to suspend prosecution of a defendant who may be placed on probation. If a defendant's trial is diverted and a judge authorized an agreement, then punishment might be imposed and served to give the individual an opportunity to prove themselves as someone who shouldn't be prosecuted.

After probation and prior to a judge issuing a sentencing order, a defendant might return to court and ask the judge to order elimination of the criminal court record. That does not eliminate jail or police records.

That could happen in Owens' case, but he must also pay restitution of $71, court costs, submit to drug testing, refrain from the use of intoxicants and not go where they're sold during the two-year sentence. Furthermore, Owens isn't to accept a city, county or state job in the 17th Judicial District's counties of Marshall, Bedford, Moore and Lincoln.

"I think it's appropriate," Judge Crigler said. "I'll accept it," Crigler said of the agreement struck for Owens by his attorney, David McKenzie, with District Attorney Chuck Crawford and Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard.

"Neal exercised some very poor judgment, but I have no reason to believe that he is a criminal," Crawford said.

Drug screenings are routine with probation, he said.

Owens' attorney spoke for his client after the Wednesday afternoon hearing in the Marshal County Courthouse.

"I believe Mr. Owens could have euthanized to dog, but instead he went another route." McKenzie said. "Although the dog may have been saved, he should have paid the city $71. That's the adoption fee."

As for the pretrial diversion, McKenzie explained that it's "an agreement by the state to suspend prosecution. The two parties have, in effect, entered a contract. They have to do some things and he has to meet the requirements of the contract."

Owens court record might then be expunged, meaning they would no longer be public documents. The only agency that keeps expunged records is the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation so that defendants can't obtain pretrial diversions more than once.