By Matt Schepeler
A criminal investigation detailing how a dog was shot, killed, and hidden under some tires in Columbia Township came front and center at a March 13 Jackson County Board of Commissioner’s committee meeting.
A request by Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka, shown at left, for funds to hire additional staff for his office led to a public debate on what cases Jarzynka is willing to prosecute, and even to charges by one commissioner that Jarzynka lied when questioned about it.
Commissioner Philip S Duckham, who represents District 4, said that he believes Jarzynka is cherry-picking cases, and he cited the Columbia Township case as an example.
“I have a constituent who had a dog shot in the head by a neighbor who admitted to doing this. The dog was not threatening him. The dog was not on his property. The dog was shot and killed. The man admitted it. And you won’t prosecute,” Duckham told Jarzynka at the March meeting.
“That is false,” said Jarzynka to commissioners. He told Duckham and the commissioners that he was familiar with the case, that he had personally reviewed it, and that the man “did not confess, he did not admit it so that information is not the evidence we have. Not at all.”
The Exponent obtained a copy of the police report from March 24. The case originated on November 11, 2020, when Columbia Township Police Officer Ben Hovarter responded to a call at an address on Giles Road. Hovarter wrote in the report that upon arrival, the residents informed him that their neighbor had shot and killed their dog, then hid her under a pile of tires.
Hovarter contacted the man accused of shooting the animal, who, he reported, admitted to shooting the dog “because it was running loose, and he has had problems with the dog running loose before.”
The suspect said that he was hunting when the dog came “off its property and ran in his direction,” wrote Hovarter. The man said it was not the first time that the dog has been running loose, and when he shot the dog, he believed it was on his property.
However, Hovarter said in the report that “It should be noted that the dog was not on [the suspects] property.” Hovarter estimated that the dog was around 100 yards away from the suspect’s deer blind when he shot the animal. Officer Hovarter confiscated the man’s gun. (More below)
As part of the investigation, photos of the dog were provided to Dr. Susan Sayles of the Brooklyn Road Veterinary Clinic.
She noted in the letter that the dog appeared to have been shot in the head, and “A bullet wound in that location would pass through vascular tissue and possibly penetrate the brain, depending on the trajectory. Immediate veterinary care would be needed to prevent loss of life,” she said. She added that one photo showed “there were tires piled on top of the dog and her neck.” She wrote that if the tires were placed there while the dog was alive, they would have caused respiratory distress due to weight and pressure on her lungs.
“The photos do not tell the timing or the placement of the tires so I cannot say that they definitively contributed to the death of this dog, but they could have if she were alive when they were placed,” she wrote in the report.
The doctor said that she was familiar with the animal and that it had been in good health and was up-to-date on vaccinations before the incident.
On Dec. 15, 2020, a warrant request was submitted to the prosecuting attorney’s office with suggested charges of unlawfully killing a domestic animal, a felony, and hunting over bait. Nearly two years later, on Dec. 13, 2022, the prosecuting attorney’s office officially dismissed the case.
When asked why the decision to dismiss the case took so long in a telephone conversation on April 3, Prosecutor Jarzynka said the reason was primarily due to COVID, which backed up his office. He also said he felt he was attacked out of the blue at the commissioner’s meeting, which was held nearly three months after the last time he had looked at the case.
“While the suspect admitted to shooting the dog, he did not admit to killing the dog,” he said. “That is what I was saying when I was disputing that with [Duckham].
Jarzynka said that at one time he asked for a re-interview of the suspect, which, he said, never occurred. He also said that since the charge was a felony, it would be tried like a murder case, and he felt there was not enough evidence to convict. He noted that there was no actual autopsy or necropsy performed on the animal, and the letter speculating what could have happened from photos was not sufficient. He said there was no physical evidence linking the suspect to the dog, such as blood or footprints, and that the suspect’s comments in the report “were sparse.”
“It [the case] was totally lacking,” he said, adding that he takes animal cases seriously.
Police Chief Jay Niles declined to discuss the case on the record.
Duckham said in a telephone conversation that, to him, the case was an example of a prosecutor’s office that has earned a reputation as being soft on criminals.
When Duckham broached the shooting at the March meeting, he provided commissioners with a letter from the victim. In the letter, the woman said that the dog’s death, and the way she died, was devastating to her family.
“Gentlemen, in my 45 years I have never known grief like this. Mira was a sweet, playful family dog who meant the world to her humans. To this day I do not understand what hate can fill a man’s heart to treat a family pet this way. I do know the damage done to me and my family,” she wrote.
She expressed appreciation for the Columbia Police Department and requested that the commissioners deny additional funding to the prosecutor’s office, as she felt they did not follow through with their duties.
The commission did later approve Jarzynka’s request for additional funding.