Judge won’t overturn district attorney decision in El Jebel dog-shootings case
February 7, 2002
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that tried to force the Eagle County district attorney to file charges against an El Jebel man who shot and killed one dog and wounded another last spring.
“I’m relieved, and I’m glad the suit is over with,” said District Attorney Mike Goodbee.
Eagle District Judge David Lass heard arguments, then dismissed the case Feb. 1.
Goodbee was sued in June by a couple who claimed he should have taken more aggressive action against the man who shot their dogs. Rosemary Forbes and Dean Workman claimed that Goodbee’s failure to prosecute the shooter was “unjustifiable, unreasonable and contrary to law.”
Two dogs owned by the couple escaped from their yard at the El Jebel Mobile Home Park last April. The dogs allegedly invaded the adjacent family-owned ranch and were harassing pet ducks and swans from a pond, killing some of the fowl.
A member of the family, Cleve Williams, admitted to law enforcement authorities that he shot the dogs after he tried to chase them away. One dog was killed with one shot. The other eventually made its way home despite 13 bullet wounds.
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Goodbee’s office investigated the case and decided that William’s actions were permissible under a state law that grants ranchers leeway in killing or dealing with dogs that invade their property and attack livestock.
Workman and Forbes protested the decision and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against Goodbee. They tried a seldom-used maneuver to get the judge to overturn his decision.
Their lawsuit, filed by Aspen attorney Brian Wexler, claimed that the pet ducks and swans didn’t qualify as livestock, so they weren’t protected by the law.
In addition, the suit claimed the dogs weren’t posing a threat to the ducks and swans when Williams shot them, so his actions were unnecessary.
Goodbee, who was represented by his chief deputy, countered that his decision couldn’t be considered arbitrary or capricious regardless of whether a person thought it was right or wrong. He said he couldn’t have achieved a conviction due to the way the law reads.
Instead, Goodbee said efforts should be made to change the state law to address issues which bothered the public, and himself, about the El Jebel case.
First, he said, the law should require that dogs be dealt with quickly and humanely when they harass livestock, and steps should be taken to make sure they cannot wander off after being wounded.
Second, he wanted the law changed so that a rancher who kills a dog that invades property and kills livestock should be required to notify the sheriff’s office or animal control officers immediately so they can inform the dog’s owners.
Goodbee said requiring shooters to tell dog owners directly would just be asking for trouble.
He said he would like to see those legal changes acted on by the state legislature this year – since conflicts between dogs and ranches will likely increase as more rural land is transformed into suburbia.
“We will see it again,” he said of the problems.