2019 Leg Session, Criminal Justice, Exclusives, Featured, Legal, Original Report, Scott Weiser, Uncategorized

Vicious dog attack leads to legislative effort requiring sheriffs to take action

CROWLEY COUNTY–A bill to require county sheriffs to enforce Colorado’s dangerous dog law was introduced Jan. 29 in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Kimmi Lewis (R-Kim), in response to a complaint that the Crowley County Sheriff’s Office refused to take action against the owner of a dog that attacked and injured a woman in Sugar City.

County sheriffs are responsible for enforcing Colorado’s “unlawful ownership of dangerous dog” law, which says that the owner of any dog that causes bodily injury to a person commits a class 3 misdemeanor unless the injury is serious, in which case it is a class 1 misdemeanor.

House Bill 1158 requires county sheriffs to investigate alleged violations of the state statute and enforce the law. If a sheriff refuses to investigate, the victim can file an affidavit with the court that requires the sheriff to appear and explain the refusal.

If the judge finds that the refusal was “arbitrary or capricious and without reasonable excuse,” the judge can order either the sheriff or the district attorney to investigate and enforce the law.

On Nov. 24, Mark Cloer’s wife Tanya was attacked and injured by a dog belonging to neighbor Gregory Vell. Cloer, who was a state senator from 2001 to 2006, says when he asked the Sheriff’s Office to enforce the state statute, the Sheriff refused to file charges.

The Cloers live in Sugar City, a small town of about 250 in Crowley County, along Colorado State Highway 96, about 50 miles east of Pueblo as the crow flies.

Cloer said in a Facebook post on Feb. 5 that his wife was attacked by “dogs who run as a pack,” and that the dogs “attempted to attack me this past Sunday night because I dared to walk out my front door.” He says that “the Sheriff refuses to enforce state law” and that the Sheriff “refused to authorize firing a gun in town.” Cloer wrote that their medical bills exceed $3000. Attempts to reach Cloer for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.

In an interview with Complete Colorado Thursday, Crowley County Sheriff John Kurtz disputed Cloer’s version of the events. He said on the day of the attack Sugar City’s code enforcement officer Jonathan Kindell impounded the dog that bit Tanya, and that a criminal summons was issued to Vell on December 1. Vell appeared in court on January 8, where he was issued a protective order. He is scheduled to appear again in late February.

According to Kurtz, Vell surrendered the dog to Kindell the day of the attack, saying that he didn’t want any more problems. The dog was held in quarantine at a veterinary clinic in Ordway for 14 days and according to Kurtz it was released into the custody of a veterinary employee rather than being euthanized.

Kurtz said that two more dogs remain in the Vell household, and that Vell is now claiming that his wife owns all the dogs, which caused her to be issued a summons as well.

Cloer has been requesting that all three dogs be impounded, but Kurtz said that only the one that bit his wife can be seized under state law.

Dog-at-large violations fall under the town’s municipal ordinances and would be enforced by Kendall, not Kurtz.

There is express authority found in wildlife statutes to kill a dog when it is necessary to prevent it from “inflicting death, damage or injury” to a person or to big game, small game, birds or mammals. A shooting has to be reported to the Division of Parks and Wildlife within five days.

Generally speaking, discharging a firearm in legitimate self-defense in violation of a local ordinance is excused under the statutory “choice of evils” exception to criminal liability.

Persons injured by dogs have also have civil recourse against the dog owner regardless of whether the owner did or did not know the dog is dangerous.

Rep. Lewis told Complete Colorado that she put up the bill to resolve a problem she believes happens in other counties as well. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

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