DA Janice Steidley: Never any evidence dog was dragged alive
CLAREMORE, Okla. (Monday, Nov. 5, 2012)--Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley today filed a criminal charge in the case of “Jetta,” a black Labrador whose death drew vigorous and widespread public interest.
Early social media and news reports suggested that the dog had been dragged to death on a county road, but Steidley said an intensive probe involving well over 100 man-hours of work by investigators for three agencies concluded that there was never any evidence that the dog had been dragged while she was alive.
Steidley said she had filed charges in Rogers County District Court against a Chelsea man alleging improper disposal of a carcass.
The charge, a misdemeanor, carries a fine of up to $500 and up to one year in the county jail.
“We appreciate the public’s concern and passion because we take allegations of animal cruelty very seriously,” said Steidley. “We are filing the charges that are backed by the investigation. Now we ask the public to let the legal system work.”
Steidley praised the work of the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, her investigators, and the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.
“The investigators followed every lead and double-checked every statement. We are filing the charge that can be justified by the evidence in this case.” Steidley said.
The case drew national and international media attention. The DA’s Office, RCSO and others received a large volume of messages, including threats, by phone, email, fax and internet involving the case.
Summary of the case and investigation
• The Rogers County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 10:37 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, that the remains of a dog had been found beside a county road in the Winganon area and that it had wire wrapped around its back legs. Deputy Ronnie Roden, the first Sheriff’s officer to respond, said in his report that he could not determine if the dog had been dragged before or after its death. The remains were buried and the RCSO continued its investigation.
• Almost immediately, speculation that the dog might have been dragged to its death began circulating through social media. The speculation led to statements by various individuals which in turn generated television and newspaper coverage of the case. That led to more social media and news coverage, which spread as far as London, England.
• A reward fund which started in the hundreds of dollars grew within two days to $25,000, fueled in part by an offer from famed football coach Barry Switzer to match other donations on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
• On Monday, Sept. 3, a suspect came forward voluntarily. He stated that the black Labrador appeared at his property injured and in pain on Wednesday, Aug. 29. He said he put the dog down, ending its suffering. Witnesses confirmed seeing the dog’s carcass at his property on Thursday and Friday.
The suspect said he wanted to remove the remains from his property because of decomposition. He said on Friday he tied the dog’s hind legs with wire, attached the other end of the wire to the trailer hitch of his vehicle, and dragged the dog’s body down the road. He said he left it in the ditch where it was discovered the next day.
• On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the RCSO sent a report to the DA’s office requesting a misdemeanor charge of improper disposal of a carcass. The DA’s office sent the report back to the RCSO for further investigation, which was done.
The DA’s investigators, working with the RCSO and independently, re-interviewed witnesses and interested parties.
• At the request of the District Attorney’s office, the remains of Jetta were recovered and transferred to the OSU veterinary school, where a necropsy was performed.
The necropsy report found pellets in the dog’s head, which was in line with the statement of the suspect about putting the dog down.
However, the report said the veterinarian who performed the necropsy was unable to determine the cause of death or whether the dog was dragged before or after death due to the decomposition of the carcass.
• There was inconsistency between the date and time when the dog’s owners said they last saw Jetta and the date when the suspect reported finding the dog on his property. The dog’s owner stated, she had a lot of things happening in her life and she wavered in her interviews of when she exactly saw her dog last.
The owners told investigators that Jetta lived outside, was not penned, and was free to roam.
“Disposing of a carcass in this manner is illegal, and we are filing that charge,” Steidley said.
Steidley said that after reviewing all the evidence, there was nothing to indicate that Jetta’s death was caused by dragging. “We have to have evidence to support any crime we charge a person with. Our burden we must meet is, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ and if we don’t have the evidence to support the crime we cannot be successful at trial. The law does not allow for us to file charges based on mere speculation or hunches,” Steidley said.
She reminded the public that any suspect is presumed innocent unless convicted by a court of law.