HARTWELL, GA -- A Royston Police officer who shot and killed a neighbor’s dog in Hart County will not face any animal cruelty charges.
On Thursday July 3, a Magistrate Judge ruled there was enough evidence to justify the shooting. During a pre-warrant hearing in Hart County Magistrate court, the dog’s owner, Mark Jordan asked the judge to charge officer Ken Reynolds with either misdemeanor or felony animal cruelty.
The hearing was to determine whether there was enough evidence to level either of those charges against Reynolds.
During opening statements, Jordan told the court his Boxer-mix dog, named Booder, was a playful 8-month old puppy that would not hurt anyone.
"I don't know if we got the right one or not," Jordan told Magistrate Judge Don Tabor. "But someone shot him (Booder) knowing they could get away with it."
Jordan said a necropsy showed Booder had died on Deborah Cleveland's property, which is next to Reynold's property, and was not in Reynold’s backyard as he claimed.
"He bled out and died where we found him," Jordan told the court.
But Reynolds’ attorney Mays Davison argued Reynolds was a responsible pet owner who had three dogs killed and injured by packs of stray dogs in the past.
During testimony, Jordan said he let his three dogs out every morning around 6a. He said they usually come back about 15 minutes later.
"That goes on all morning," Jordan testified. "They go out and run and then come back and go out again."
Davison asked Jordan if he knew where his dogs go when he lets them out and Jordan said once they are out of his sight, he did not know.
Deborah Cleveland testified that while she owns over 30 acres, only about one to two acres were securely fenced and admitted much of the fencing had holes in it where the dogs could get through and leave her property.
Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland testified that when conducting the investigation, they found brown dog hair on Deborah Cleveland's barbed wire fence near the Reynolds' property.
"From the direction of the barb the hair was on, it appeared the dogs were going in the direction of Reynolds' property," he said.
Reynolds testified that early on the morning of May 28th, he had just let his 7lb Chihuahua out for its morning walk about 6a when he looked out the bathroom window and saw the three dogs running in his back yard.
"They were running back and forth by my pool deck as if they were chasing something," he said.
Reynolds said he believed the three dogs were after his Chihuahua so he got his hunting rifle and fired a round out his bathroom window.
"I was not dressed and I couldn't get dressed fast enough to go out there before something happened to my dog," he said.
Reynolds said after he fired, the dogs ran back towards Cleveland’s property.
On the stand, Reynolds recounted three separate occasions since 2010 where his dogs had been attacked and two had been killed. On Thanksgiving Day, 2010, Reynolds said stray dogs attacked and killed the family's Chihuahua. He said another attack happened in December 2012 when a pack of dogs mauled their 16-year old mixed-breed dog, which later had to be put down because of its injuries. Then in February of this year, Reynolds said a pack of dogs mauled one of their Rottweillers, severely injuring it.
Jordan pointed out there were a number of packs of dogs living around the Reynolds property that could have attacked his dogs and could have been the dogs Reynolds saw out his bathroom window on the morning of May 28. But Reynolds identified the three dogs as those belonging to Jordan and Deborah Cleveland after being shown photos of the dogs.
Stephens County Magistrate Judge Donald Tabor heard the case at the request of Hart County Magistrate Judge Thomas Jordan.
In making his ruling, Tabor noted the new Hart County Animal Control Ordinance made no distinction between a stray dog or pet wandering onto other people's property without their consent. The ordinance does not ban dogs from roaming free in the rural community. It only requires all dogs to have current rabies tags and proper ID.
Tabor, however, cited the Georgia state law regarding when a person is justified in shooting and killing a stray dog on their property. The law says the person must believe his property or persons on the property are in "immediate peril," in which case the property owner is allowed to take action to protect his property.
Judge Tabor noted the previous stray dog attacks on Reynold's property and witness testimony citing Reynolds' character, love of animals, and actions he and his family took to be responsible pet owners by putting in an invisible electric boundary fence to keep his animals on their own property.
"I believe they have suffered enough," Tabor said. "The evidence shows the dog was shot on Reynolds' property. Given the history, Reynolds' had reasonable fear that his dog was in danger and he justifiably killed the dog."
Additionally, Tabor said there was insufficient probable cause that Reynolds shot Jordan's dog without cause and he dismissed Jordan's application for a warrant of animal cruelty against Reynolds. After the hearing, Reynolds said he was happy with the verdict but sorry for Jordan and Cleveland.
"I'm sorry that this happened," Reynolds said. "I'm sorry for Mr. Jordan's loss, I'm an animal lover, but I'm going to do what I have to to protect my own."
Jordan said after the hearing he intends to continue to let his remaining two dogs run wherever they wish whether it’s on or off Cleveland’s 30 acre farm.
"They go out every morning. They went out this morning. So, no," he said.
However, Cleveland said she plans to take steps to make sure holes in her fence are fixed.
"I am thinking about redoing the part, which is a big part of the property that has some little holes here and there," she said. "I'm thinking about getting that back in shape."
Reynolds said he cannot afford to build a solid fence to keep the stray dogs out.