Report: Chaffee mayor suggested shooting dog

Friday, March 23, 2012
Submitted photo The Chaffee, Mo., pound

CHAFFEE, Mo. -- A small doggie door at the Elfrink's two-story white house on Elliott Avenue no longer swings open to let Lexi outside. The rat terrier and shih tzu mix isn't using her custom-made ramp to get to her fenced side yard, either.

Her death, reportedly from a bullet fired by a Chaffee police officer Feb. 19, has prompted the Missouri Department of Agriculture to order a shutdown of Chaffee's animal impound and a separate investigation by the Scott County Sheriff's Department involving Chaffee police, the town's mayor and city workers. Police chief Jim Chambers was fired by the city council in a closed meeting, but members won't say why.

According to a copy of the incident report about the dog's shooting obtained by the Southeast Missourian, it was the mayor who suggested that city employees shoot the dog and dispose of its body. A dispatch log shows that a dispatcher was later ordered to not tell the dog's owners about the fate of their pet.

But it appears that no criminal charges will be filed in connection with the dog's death.

According to a news release from Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd's office issued Thursday, the sheriff's department submitted probable-cause affidavits to Boyd on Feb. 28 requesting that Chaffee Mayor Steve Loucks be charged with animal abuse and making a false declaration. The sheriff's department also requested a false declaration charge for Chambers. Boyd turned the request over to Butler County prosecutor Kevin Barbour a short time later to avoid a conflict of interest, since he often works with the Chaffee Police Department. Boyd's office received a letter Thursday from Butler County that stated that upon review of evidence, a criminal conviction could not be supported and the Elfrink family would be "better suited to seek civil damages."

A copy of the Feb. 19 incident report and a dispatch log of the Chaffee Police Department from the same date was obtained Wednesday by the Southeast Missourian.

Robert Ludwig, the officer who shot the dog, writes that on the day the dog was picked up by a city worker, the mayor and the police chief told him to take it out to the city compost site and shoot it, and that Chambers advised him to "keep it quiet and not tell anyone."

The report says the police department received a call around 1 p.m. from a Chaffee resident who said a dog had been outside the resident's apartment for most of the day and appeared to have mange. Ludwig responded to 537 W. Yoakum St. and then called the station to have a dispatcher request the city's animal control officer, Jerry Laxton. Ludwig also thought the dog had mange.

The dispatcher could not reach Laxton, so Ludwig drove to Rhodes 101 store in Chaffee, where Laxton works part time. As they talked about the dog, Loucks entered the store and was told about the dog and that the officers weren't sure what to do with it. It was then, Ludwig wrote, that he suggested taking to the dog to a veterinarian, but Loucks said no and to take the dog out to the city compost site and shoot it.

Ludwig and Mark Lueder, a city employee who picked up the dog, met at the compost site around 3 p.m. Ludwig wrote that he went to the site because Lueder left a message at the police station that he did not have a gun. When Ludwig arrived, Lueder had already dug a hole.

"I then loaded a range round into my service weapon and then Mark placed the dog into the hole. At that time I took aim and shot the dog once in the head," Ludwig wrote.

According to the report, Lueder covered the hole, and the two men left.

Dispatcher logs show Jennifer Elfrink called the police station at 4:30 p.m. and reported her 14-year-old dog, which was blind and deaf with back legs that did not work properly and looked like it had mange, was missing. She told the dispatcher the dog did not have mange but suffered from another virus and was on medication. The log says Ludwig was advised of the call.

At 6:15 p.m., logs show, Elfrink called back and said she was worried someone would find the dog and think it was sick or abused. The dispatcher wrote he advised Elfrink that he was not aware of a dog being located.

Close to midnight, Elfrink called back a third time and said she was driving around looking for the dog with her children in the car and that she was worried. The dispatcher checked the log, saw a dog was found and disposed of, and called Chambers. At midnight, Chambers is listed on the log as telling the dispatcher not to tell Elfrink anything.

Chambers could not be reached at his home number Thursday. Acting police chief Dustin Jarrell was not at the police station Thursday and would not return to work until this morning, according to a communications employee at the department.

Pound shutdown

Loucks was reached by phone Thursday at Chaffee City Hall before the Boyd's release was sent to media. Loucks said he could not comment because the incident was under investigation and that he was advised not to. He also wouldn't comment on who was advising him. The Southeast Missourian requested the city's ordinances relating to dogs during the call and received the documents at city hall Thursday afternoon.

State law requires all incorporated cities or towns to collect dogs found running at large without collars and place them in a pound. The city shall keep dogs for five business days and allows euthanasia using humane methods if the animal is not claimed by its owner by the end of that period. Section 270.150 of Chaffee city ordinances state an animal not redeemed within seven days becomes city property and shall be placed for adoption or humanely euthanized.

The city's pound was found to be unlicensed under the Animal Care Facilities Act during a March 6 investigation by the Department of Agriculture. In a March 5 email to Loucks, Animal Care program manager Matt Rold wrote that a complaint filed by a Chaffee resident prompted the investigation.

Loucks said Thursday that the city's pound could not receive animals but that police could still deal with animals if one caused harm or threatened to cause harm, per instruction of the Agriculture Department.

The investigation found numerous issues, including that the impound did not meet requirements for cleaning, food storage, waste disposal, shelter, construction of facilities, identification of impounded animals, record keeping, handling of animals or minimum holding period. The inspection report also says the city must go through the application process and meet all requirements by April 6.

"We won't be back open until some changes are made," Loucks said.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said the probable-cause affidavit requesting charges for Loucks and Chambers could not be released unless a prosecutor filed charges. Walter said he was aware that Jennifer Elfrink had contacted the Agriculture Department to file a complaint and that she shared with him an initial recommendation from the department. The department advised her that normally she could contact law enforcement, but that in this case, Walter said Elfrink was told, "the local police are probably not going to help you."

Elfrink's husband Wayne was contacted Thursday afternoon at their home. He said what happened to their dog was "a sad situation."

Several city council members reached by the Southeast Missourian declined to comment.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Elliott Avenue, Chaffee, MO

537 W. Yoakum St., Chaffee, MO

222 W. Yoakum St., Chaffee, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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