DA: Man who shot dogs will not be charged

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Nico Savidge
Monday, August 26, 2013

JANESVILLE—A Janesville man who shot two of his neighbors' dogs in July, killing one of them, acted in self-defense and will not face criminal charges, District Attorney David O'Leary said Monday.

Janesville police wrapped up their investigation into the July 27 shooting in the 1400 block of Sharon Street and did not recommend charging the 38-year-old man when they forwarded the case to O'Leary's office last week.

“I feel that he was acting in his own best interest,” Detective Erik Goth said.

O'Leary seemed to reach a similar conclusion, writing in an email that he will not charge the man.

“The state cannot overcome the suspect's right of self-defense,” O'Leary wrote. “The criminal matter is closed.”

The two dogs were not on leashes and had chased a squirrel onto the man's property around 7:45 the night of the shooting, according to police reports obtained by The Gazette. There is no fence separating the two properties.

The dogs then appeared at the door of the man's garage as he was finishing some yard work and ran toward him, police said.

Startled, the man fired six shots at the dogs, police said. One of them, Pepper, was killed and another, Dakota, was wounded.

The man was taken into custody as police responded to reports of the shooting, Goth said, but he was released after police spoke with him and decided he had acted in self-defense.

The dogs' owners have spent weeks pushing for authorities to bring animal cruelty charges against the neighbor, saying he overreacted and did not need to shoot the dogs.

Owner Maria Ochs said she knows her family is at fault for letting the dogs run without a leash and that she'd gladly pay a fine for that if it meant her neighbor would face charges in the shooting.

“We tried everything to get justice for our dogs,” Ochs said through tears Monday. “Everybody knows that my dogs aren't aggressive, and they didn't deserve this.”

Multiple attempts to contact the man on Monday were unsuccessful.

Ochs has spread the word about the shooting, handing out fliers that tell her family's side of the story: That the dogs were shot as they turned away from the man and were leaving his garage.

In Goth's report on the shooting, however, he writes that he spoke with Michael Hotchkiss, a veterinarian who examined the dogs.

Hotchkiss concluded Pepper, “Was shot facing the weapon that was fired at (her),” Goth wrote, and that Dakota's position toward the shooter “couldn't be determined accurately.”

The veterinarian was on vacation and could not be reached for comment Monday.

All of the shell casings officers recovered after the shooting were found inside the man's garage, as was the body of Pepper, according to police reports.

Ochs called the investigation “botched” and said she has felt “blown off” by police and prosecutors.

Asked if she would pursue any sort of civil lawsuit against her neighbor, Ochs said she was not sure, but the district attorney's decision not to pursue charges could make that difficult.

Ochs is planning a Sept. 28 memorial service for Pepper. That also will be a chance to thank the officers and veterinarians who helped save Dakota, she said.

Her family has since left Sharon Street—Dakota was afraid to go outside there after the shooting, Ochs said.

The man and his wife told police they sometimes felt intimidated by the dogs before the shooting but never talked with Ochs about them, according to police reports.

The two families haven't spoken since the incident, Ochs said.

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