On November 11th, at approximately 4:30 p.m., St. George Police Officers were dispatched to a report of a dog that had been killed in the area of 2040 East, in St. George. It was reported that the dog was killed by a neighbor. What is known and is not in dispute, is that a small dog entered the neighbor’s yard and approached the man, who was maintaining his landscaping. The man swung a long handled pruning sheer at the dog when it approached him. The sheers ended up striking the dog in the head, killing it instantly. As sad as it is that the dog was hit and killed, the circumstances were worsened by the fact that the incident was witnessed by the dog owner’s juvenile daughter.
Officers responded to the report and received statements from all of the parties involved. Additional information was provided that required officers to conduct some follow up interviews. An attempt was made to contact additional witnesses in the neighborhood, those efforts are ongoing, and the preliminary information was reviewed at that time to determine if there was a clear course of action that could be taken.
The criminal code on point for this incident is 76-9-301(4) – (5):
A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to an animal if the person:(a)tortures an animal;(b)administers, or causes to be administered, poison or a poisonous substance to an animal; or(c)kills an animal or causes an animal to be killed without having a legal privilege to do so.
Except as provided in Subsection (6) {deals with killing a companion animal} or Section 76-9-301.7, {prior conviction that enhance the penalties} a violation of Subsection (4) is:(a)a class A misdemeanor if committed intentionally or knowingly;(b)a class B misdemeanor if committed recklessly; and(c)a class C misdemeanor if committed with criminal negligence.
This statute will be used to guide any charges that may be filed to determine what classification of offense might be charged (Class A, B, or C misdemeanor). Classifying these types of cases, determining what someone’s mental intent was at the time of the incident, is not as simple as some other types of crimes where the penalties are not based upon intent (like speeding or running a red light). We must be able to show an intent level to determine what penalties may be imposed if the suspect is convicted. It also impacts what options the officer has when determining whether to cite or arrest a suspect.
Utah Code 77-7 -2:
A peace officer may make an arrest under authority of a warrant or may, without warrant, arrest a person:(1)(a)for any public offense committed or attempted in the presence of any peace officer; and(b)as used in this Subsection (1), “presence” includes all of the physical senses or any device that enhances the acuity, sensitivity, or range of any physical sense, or records the observations of any of the physical senses;(2)when the peace officer has reasonable cause to believe a felony or a class A misdemeanor has been committed and has reasonable cause to believe that the person arrested has committed it;(3)when the peace officer has reasonable cause to believe the person has committed a public offense, and there is reasonable cause for believing the person may:(a)flee or conceal himself to avoid arrest;(b)destroy or conceal evidence of the commission of the offense; or(c)injure another person or damage property belonging to another person;
In this case there are conflicting accounts of what the suspect was intending to do when he encountered the animal. This conflict makes it more difficult to determine what the suspect INTENDED to do when he encountered the dog. There are many factors which can give insight into his mindset and therein lies the challenge. This was not an offense that happened in the presence of an officer and as such an arrest can only be made under a narrow set of circumstances. We have been, and will continue to be in contact with the prosecutor’s office to determine the appropriate course of action.
The St. George Police Department does feel that this incident is significant and has had a significant impact on the children and family who own the dog. Our goal is to fully and effectively investigate ALL aspects of this incident to determine what legal options for criminal charges we have and then to proceed with the most appropriate and effective option. We understand, with the emotions involved, how it might seem that the “police are doing nothing about it,” but that is not the case. We are trying to do the RIGHT thing to address this situation.
Where this is an ongoing investigation we can’t discuss the factors and details that play into the final decision, we are working to establish what they are. We feel badly for the family that lost their pet and understand the impact it has had on them.