Police stand behind officer's action
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 23, 2008 1:35 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- After several days of investigation, Mount Olive police Maj. Brian Rhodes stands behind the officer who shot and killed a 45-pound Labrador retriever on Main Street Sept. 18.
So does Police Chief Ralph Schroeder, who said statements from neighbors, witnesses and other officers prove that 2-year-old Durham had a history of "terrorizing" the neighborhood.
Two neighbors gave statements alleging they have called the police about Durham and Ms. Mangum's other dog, a Rottweiler named Bella, several times -- that they "feared for the safety of their children."
But after talking to officers, Rhodes found that officers have only been called on the dogs four times in the two years Ms. Mangum had resided on Main Street.
And Ms. Mangum has never received a citation from the responding officer or the town.
Sgt. John Duncan said he has responded to three calls about Bella and Durham being loose.
On one occasion, the responding officer had to use mace before he could secure the animals in Ms. Mangum's kennel.
But even in that case, the problems were diffused before lethal force was "necessary."
Ms. Mangum said she has talked with officers before about the dogs getting loose.
But they "never" used the word "vicious" in reference to them.
"They said things like, 'Not again,'" she said. "They said, 'Where did they run off to this time?'"
Both Schroeder and Rhodes confirmed that no citation has ever been left with Ms. Mangum regarding her dogs.
In fact, neither the chief nor the major had ever heard of Durham, much less seen him, until his picture appeared in the Sept. 21 edition of the News-Argus.
But from "what they know now," the dogs were, indeed, vicious, they said.
In the report, for every person who says Durham and Bella have a history of causing problems, another called Durham "shy," or "sweet."
There was still daylight when Dustin Sasser pulled up to the home of the complainant, Pam King.
She said Durham chased her inside as she was collecting sticks and pinecones from her yard.
Sasser told Rhodes the dog then chased him inside.
So he went to his car, called for backup and grabbed his shotgun.
"For protection," Rhodes said.
Sasser had already driven around the block and knocked on Ms. Mangum's door when officer Steven Parks arrived.
The two looked out of Ms. King's backdoor and did not see Durham.
When they went outside, they heard him barking from through a "thicket" in between her yard and Ms. Mangum's.
They decided to confirm that he was back in his owner's yard.
Sasser, now armed with a shotgun, fired two times when Durham came out of the thicket and "lunged at him," Rhodes said -- only firing because the dog was out of the range of his spray, which officials said is "about eight feet."
When asked about Sharon Kulers, a neighbor who said she pleaded with officers not to shoot the dog, Rhodes said his officers did not hear her cries.
Wayne County Animal Control was never called.
Schroeder said his department "didn't know you could call them after hours."
And Rhodes admitted that his officers are not equipped to deal with a "vicious" dog.
"We don't deal with dogs that much," he said. "We don't have the equipment to deal with them. We're a small town."
Mount Olive town ordinance defines a vicious dog as, "Any dog which has bitten one or more persons, or one in which a propensity to attack human beings exists, and such propensity is known or ought to reasonably to be known by the owner."
Ms. Mangum said she has never been told, by officers or neighbors, that her dogs fit into that category.
They simply broke loose every now and then.
"Four times in two years isn't really that much when you think about it," she said. "Anyone who owns a dog knows that you can be with them outside, turn your head for a split second, and they are gone."
Schroeder and Rhodes both said that they regret what happened.
"None of our officers ever want to put a dog down," Rhodes said.
But they realize that some changes in procedure need to be made -- that they are looking into bringing in an animal control officer to talk to officers, town officials are revising policy.
Previous stories about this incident include -- Mayor: Mount Olive officer made 'horrible mistake' and Mount Olive police shoot 'vicious' dog.
Also see -- Mount Olive police shoot 'vicious' dog - Your opinion? (forum discussion) and What is your definition of a vicious dog? (reader poll)
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