A retired Oregon state trooper and his brother were each sentenced to two years probation after pleading no contest to charges of first degree animal abuse.
The retired officer, Craig Johnson, 60, and his brother, Paul Johnson, 67, shot three dogs that were guarding sheep on a grazing allotment in the Ochoco National Forest in August 2012.
Aside from probation, the brothers have been fined $500 each, prohibited from hunting for a year and ordered to perform community service, among other conditions. Craig Johnson must also forfeit the rifle used to shoot the dogs.
The Johnsons shot the dogs while on a hunting expedition in the Central Oregon national forest, said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins.
A sheep herder working for rancher Gordon Clark heard shots fired and a dog yelping in pain on Aug. 27, 2012, but didn’t actually see the shooters.
After finding the dead dogs, the sheep herder notified Clark, who called the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.
A sheriff’s deputy photographed foot prints near the shooting site and later noticed they matched shoes worn by the Johnsons when he interviewed the brothers at their camp, Vitolins said.
Bullet casings at the scene of the shooting were also later matched to the Johnsons’ rifle, she said.
The Johnsons initially denied knowing anything about the shooting, then admitted killing the dogs because the “sheep and dogs messed up their hunting,” Vitolins said.
Most recently, the brothers claimed they shot the dogs because they feared for their lives, she said, adding that the rancher had been using dogs in the area for 20 years with no incident.
“It’s a tragedy those three dogs were killed for no reason,” Vitolins said.
Clark, the rancher, said he believed the two brothers got off lightly for killing the three Great Pyrenees dogs, which cost up to $1,500 per puppy, plus the cost of training.
“I think the sentence should have been harsher. I don’t think the sentence is going to change their behavior,” he said. “They’re very belligerent and seem to have an attitude about things.”
Clark said the Johnsons defended themselves against the criminal charges by attacking his livestock operation.
Capital Press was unable to reach an attorney for Craig Johnson as of press time.
Brendon Alexander, attorney for Paul Johnson, said his client pleaded no contest because he wanted to put the incident behind him.
“My client is sick about it,” he said.
The plea deal is not an admission of liability if Clark decides to pursue civil charges, Alexander said.
The Johnsons shot the dogs because they saw one chasing elk, which is prohibited by Oregon law, and because another dog assumed a “threatening posture” toward them, he said.
“The shepherd was nowhere to be seen,”said Alexander, noting that the dogs were supposed to be under the control of voice commands.
Alexander said his client denied changing his story.
“They had no idea they were dealing with guard dogs,” he said. “They didn’t feel they did anything wrong, which is why they stayed in the area.”