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No jail time imposed against dog shooter

A contrite Ted Coffman avoided a jail sentence Monday for shooting and killing his former neighbors’ Rottweiler last August.

Coffman, who was convicted by a jury last month of cruelty to animals, was sentenced to two years of probation, 120 hours of useful public service and ordered to pay $500 in restitution to the dog’s owners, Steven and Cynthia Tanis.

“This is not a case that deserves a jail sentence,” said Garfield County Judge Victor Zerbi, who presided over the case, even though the act occurred in Pitkin County.

Although Coffman avoided jail, it appears he will fight the conviction. His attorney, Patrick Mika, took the first steps toward an appeal Monday.

Judge Zerbi said he would avoid imposing jail time even though he was troubled by the “arrogance” Coffman displayed in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper after the jury found him guilty.

In that letter, Coffman criticized Colorado law for offering more protection for livestock than people from allegedly vicious dogs.

But Coffman chose a decidedly different tone when he spoke at yesterday’s sentencing hearing. Coffman, 54, who moved recently to Phoenix, Ariz., looked the Tanises in the eye and said, “You guys, I’m sorry. I mean that genuinely.”

Coffman went on to say he wishes he had taken a different action than shooting their dog. But at that time, he said, he felt as if he had no other option. He said he felt events were on a “collision course” that required either the dog to be “put down” or someone from his family would be harmed.

Cynthia Tanis, seated in the benches in the courtroom, looked at her husband after Coffman’s apology and appeared to wipe a tear from her eye a moment later. Following the hearing, she said was pleased to finally receive an apology.

“Today’s the first day I’ve seen any remorse,” she said.

However, she wanted a stiffer sentence. She asked the judge to send Coffman to jail for a weekend to give him time “to think.”

“I’m just a little disappointed that he got a slap on the wrist,” Tanis said after the hearing.

The Tanises maintained throughout the ordeal that Xena, the Rottweiler, wasn’t a vicious dog. Nevertheless, they took steps to try to relieve the Coffmans’ fears when they moved in next door. Cynthia Tanis said they had installed invisible fencing, trained Xena and offered to introduce her to the Coffmans so they could all become familiar with one another.

The Coffmans claimed the dog was territorial and had threatened various family members after wandering into the Coffmans’ yard. Earlier complaints had been investigated by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Tanises had received a dog-at-large citation, which they pleaded guilty to.

Judge Zerbi said there was plenty of blame to go around for an incident that sparked extraordinary interest and debate throughout the valley.

The judge noted that the jury didn’t believe Coffman acted in self-defense when he shot the dog. Coffman could have taken different actions, Zerbi said.

But he also stressed that the Tanises didn’t do enough to keep their dog from repeatedly wandering onto their neighbors’ property. All dog owners “have an absolute obligation to keep our pets under control and on their property and not somewhere else,” he said.

The judge said he also felt compelled to publicly lay part of the blame on the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which handled earlier complaints by the Coffmans about Xena.

“This was a touchy-feely way of dealing with the case that wasn’t appropriate,” he said.

Had the initial complaint elicited the more serious investigation that it required, Zerbi said, “we might not be here today.”

Zerbi said he was required, at Coffman’s request, to place the terms of sentencing on hold until an appeal is considered.


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