October 24, 2014

Dog bite case prompts conflicting testimony

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Selectboard weighs fate of trooper’s German Shepard

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Two contrasting portraits were sketched for the Selectboard during a hearing Monday to determine the fate of a German Shepard accused of biting a Williston man.

The dog’s owner, Michelle LeBlanc, and her supporters called the 18-month-old Paco a gentle, playful dog that faithfully obeys commands and avoids conflict. Meanwhile, Brooks and Amy McArthur, LeBlanc’s neighbors on Seth Circle, recounted two incidents in which they say Paco made unprovoked attacks, injuring Brooks McArthur in the recent incident that prompted Monday’s hearing.

McArthur, a deputy state’s attorney in Washington County, filed a “vicious domestic pet” complaint with the town on April 18. He said Paco had attacked him three days earlier in his driveway after he and his wife had returned from an evening walk with their pug, Oliver.

LeBlanc, a Vermont State Police trooper, took issue with the complaint Monday, saying it was “totally exaggerated and leads people to believe it was a vicious attack and much worse than it was.”

McArthur’s complaint states the German Shepard was running free when it attacked and bit him repeatedly on his back and elbow. He said Paco continued to bite him until LeBlanc pulled the dog away.

On Monday, McArthur described the pain of the bites as “indescribable.” He was treated at the hospital for his wounds.

McArthur also mentioned a 2004 incident in which he said Paco attacked his wife and dog. He said his wife was only scratched, but Oliver was bitten.

McArthur, who was accompanied Monday by his wife and an attorney, declined to give his opinion on what should be done with Paco, saying he just wanted to “effectuate change.” The Selectboard has the authority to put the dog to sleep or to impose a less severe sanction to prevent future attacks.

“We should feel safe to walk outside,” McArthur said. “My primary concern is to make certain something like this doesn’t happen again.”

LeBlanc disputed parts of McArthur’s versions of both incidents. She does not believe Paco bit McArthur on April 15, but instead scratched him with newly groomed claws. She said Paco probably wanted to play with Oliver, whom McArthur had lifted into his arms to protect. She said her dog is not aggressive.

Selectboard members noted the medical report said McArthur’s injuries were the result of dog bites, and Dennis Healy, a neighbor who witnessed the incident, said he saw Paco bite McArthur twice in the back.

LeBlanc said Paco had slipped out the front door of her condo while she was carrying items inside from her vehicle. She said Paco responded to her command to stop after the contact began with McArthur, and the dog was sitting when she reached the scene.

Although she disagreed with McArthur on some details of the incident, LeBlanc repeatedly emphasized her regret for the confrontation and McArthur’s injuries. She pledged to ensure that no similar incident ever occurred again. LeBlanc said she would take additional steps to keep Paco from running free and planned to give the dog additional obedience training.

LeBlanc said the incident has affected her career. She interviewed for a police canine handler position the day before the incident occurred. Now, she said, “I will not get the job unless these false allegations are rectified.”

LeBlanc said she had hoped to settle the matter privately and had offered to pay McArthur’s medical bills.

In addition to LeBlanc, four people spoke in support of Paco, saying the dog was friendly and well behaved. Debbie Stevens and Heather Drake said they allow their children to play with the dog.

With her voice breaking, Amy McArthur responded, saying, “I’m glad you aren’t afraid of Paco, but I am.”

The coverage of the incident in the Observer upset both LeBlanc and McArthur. LeBlanc said their occupations should not have been included in the story.

LeBlanc also said the public seemed to have the mistaken impression that Paco was a police canine.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons had said at the April 18 Selectboard meeting, which was broadcast on Channel 17, that the dog was being trained to be a police canine.

However, the story in the April 21 Observer stated that LeBlanc’s dog was not a police canine. Lt. Bill O’Leary of the Vermont State Police said LeBlanc only hoped the dog would be considered for the role one day.

McArthur said it was “irresponsible journalism” for the Observer to suggest he had said Paco was a police canine. However, the article never stated McArthur made such a claim.

The Selectboard held a closed-door session after the hearing to discuss the case. The board’s decision could come as early as next week.

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Complaint alleges German Shepard attacked state prosecutor

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Selectboard will hold hearing to decide dog’s fate

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A German Shepard that a state trooper owns as a personal pet attacked a state prosecutor last week on the Williston street where both law enforcement officials live.

The Selectboard will hold a hearing Monday on the case. The board could order the dog put to sleep or impose a less severe sanction to prevent future attacks.

Brooks McArthur, a Seth Circle resident, filed a formal “vicious domestic pet” complaint with the town Monday against the German Shepard and its owner. McArthur, a deputy state’s attorney in Washington County, said the dog bit him multiple times in an unprovoked attack Friday.

The dog belongs to Michelle Leblanc, who also resides on Seth Circle. She is a Vermont State Police trooper.

State Police Lt. Bill O’Leary, who emphasized the incident did not occur while Leblanc was on duty, said the dog was not a police canine, though Leblanc “was hoping the dog would be considered” to become a police canine one day.

The alleged incident occurred at approximately 6:30 p.m., according to McArthur’s complaint. McArthur said the dog was not on a leash when it attacked him without provocation in his driveway. “The German Shepard was running toward my wife and I at full speed in an effort to attack,” the complaint states.

McArthur was knocked to the ground by the dog, according to Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden. McArthur’s complaint indicated he was bit multiple times on his back and once on his elbow. McArthur said he required medical treatment for the bites.

The attack was subsequently reported to the Williston Police Department. Glidden said Tuesday that the case remains under investigation. It was unclear whether there were witnesses to the alleged attack besides McArthur’s wife.

Leblanc could not be immediately reached for comment. However, O’Leary said Leblanc would be at next week’s Selectboard meeting.

“She’s very upset by this and she plans to attend the scheduled hearing,” O’Leary said.

McArthur’s complaint also detailed a previous alleged attack with the German Shepard that occurred in the summer of 2004. McArthur said the dog attacked McArthur’s wife, Amy, and their pug, which was only a few months old at the time, “without provocation and while off the premises of its owner.”

McArthur said his wife did not require medical attention, but the pug was bitten and sustained several puncture wounds to its abdomen.

Two Selectboard members, Terry Macaig and Ted Kenney, will complete their own investigation of the most recent incident. They are expected to work with Officer Jessie Sawyer, the investigating officer on the case, and to interview those involved. They will present their findings to the board at Monday’s meeting.

The Selectboard will deliberate following the hearing, perhaps in a closed session. The board will weigh whether it needs to take action to prevent the dog from a future attack. Potential penalties include muzzling, confining or chaining the dog, or putting the dog to sleep. The Selectboard could also impose a $50 fine.

Leblanc would have 21 days to appeal the Selectboard’s decision.

Selectboard member Andy Mikell said he wanted to speak directly to those involved, including any witnesses, at the hearing.

“If I’m going to have to decide whether to let this dog go loose in the community or to kill it, then, with all due respect to (Macaig and Kenney), I’d like to hear what (the people involved) have to say myself,” Mikell said.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the Selectboard last received a formal dog bite complaint a few years ago, but no formal hearing was conducted because of successful mediation between the parties.

“This one did not lend itself to that,” McGuire said.

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Architects picked for projects

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A South Burlington architecture firm will partner with a prominent national company to design Williston’s new public safety facilities.

A building committee overseeing the facilities project tapped Dore & Whittier, which has an office on Williston Road in South Burlington, to handle the design for the facilities in partnership with Cole + Russell, a Cincinnati firm.

Dore & Whittier has worked on projects throughout New England and New York, according to its Web site. It designed the renovation at Williston Central School that was completed in 1991. Among its current projects is the renovation of five buildings at the University of Vermont.

Dore & Whittier does not indicate it has experience with public safety facilities, but Cole + Russell cites numerous police, fire and rescue projects in its portfolio. The firm’s Web site says it has designed 45 fire stations and “countless public safety facilities.”

Cole + Russell touts its “pioneering Training by Design program, which incorporates onsite training with architecture.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the decision was difficult for the building committee. He said the committee narrowed the field to three firms, interviewed representatives from each and checked lists of references.

The next step for the building committee will be hiring a construction manager.

The $6.8 million project will include the renovation of the current fire station into a police station and the construction of a new fire and rescue facility at the Mahan Farm.

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