County commissioner frees pit bull

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

A local couple was so badly frightened by their neighbor's dogs they called the police Sunday morning. One dog was later taken to the shelter by an animal control officer, but spent only 30 minutes there before being released on the request of a county commissioner.

Two pit bull dogs had the couple "pinned in their home" on Finley Beech Road after they tried to get in their car and go to church, according to a report by Marshall County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Harden.

Harden's report also states the following.

The dispatcher told Harden the caller said the dogs were "vicious." When he arrived at the house, the dogs ran up to the police car and "at first glance they appeared friendly," but then the male dog growled, started showing his teeth, rushed toward Harden as if to attack the deputy.

Harden had to spray the dog twice with Mace before it left the yard.

The deputy then went next door to look for the dogs' owners. There seemed to be no one home, but Harden found two more dogs, and a dead cat, in a pen. While Harden was photographing the dead cat, the other dog came running at him again, and got a third spray of Mace.

Finally, Animal Control Officer Jason Williams arrived, and the dogs' owner also pulled up in his truck.

Harden was preparing to write a ticket for "animals at large" when the dog charged at him again. This time, however, the owner was able to grab it and put it in the house.

"I wrote ... a ticket, and Jason told him he had to take the dog, as he always does and has to because I issued a ticket and the dog is vicious," Harden reported.

The owner "started acting disorderly, calling us names... He then said he would call his commissioner, Nathan Johnson," the deputy continued. "He said Nathan told him, 'if you get in trouble about dogs to call him'...he then said he would have his dog out by evening."

In fact, it took even less time, with the dog confined at the pound for only about 30 minutes.

When interviewed Tuesday, Johnson said the woman who owned the dogs came to his store in Belfast and asked for help getting her dog out of the pound.

Johnson said he questioned Williams, and saw no reason to keep the dog at the shelter until the owner's September court date.

The dog would be "just as well off at home," Johnson said, and this would save the county money.

The commissioner did say he warned the woman if there was another problem with the dog it would be "a whole different ball game," and she assured him there would be no problem.

Johnson said the dog owners "signed an owner release" and pointed out they still have to go through the court system.

Harden's report appears to indicate a bigger problem. It says Deputy Layne Worsham escorted the neighbors home and "I went there also to case (the dog owner) got violent," and added there had been four complaints about these dogs since Jan. 15.

Williams came to the Sheriff's office, Harden wrote, to tell deputies the dog had been released.

"Mr. Williams said Commissioner Nathan Johnson told him to release the dogs and he did follow orders....Jason didn't collect the usual fees associated with the release of the animals, he just followed the commissioner's orders," Harden wrote at the end of his report.

When Johnson was interviewed, he had not read the police report, and said he was unaware that the dogs had been in the neighbor's yard. Johnson said he was under the impression the dogs had never left their owner's property.

"I hope it don't look like I've overstepped my bounds," Johnson said Tuesday after a meeting of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities.