Case Snapshot
Case ID: 15806
Classification: Shooting
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Attorneys/Judges
Prosecutor(s): Joel Page


For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.



Sunday, Apr 26, 2009

County: Lamoille

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Acquitted

Person of Interest: Michael Wootton

Case Updates: 4 update(s) available

An off-duty police officer who shot and killed a neighbor's dog will face a criminal charge in the killing, according to Lamoille County State's Attorney Joel Page.

Police said Essex police Officer Michael Wootton admitted to shooting a mixed-breed dog after it got in a fight with his own dog -- a small pug -- in his Waterville neighborhood earlier this month.

Wootton has been summoned to appear in Lamoille County District Court May 26 to face a charge of cruelty to animals. He will appear in Hyde Park court.

"This is the type of case that can push people's buttons. For a lot of people, animals and guns are very strong issues and a lot of people see those in black and white. The law that's involved here has a lot of nuances and shades of gray and so what we're looking at is a broader picture and the shades of gray to figure out what the right thing to do is," said Page.

According to Essex police, Wootton has not been placed on leave. Essex police also refuse to comment on the case, citing an ongoing administrative investigation.

The charge stems from an incident earlier this month when Wootton's pug left his property and got into a fight with the neighbor's dog, police said. At some point during the fight Wootton went to his home and retrieved a handgun and fired one shot, killing the neighbor's dog.

"He thought his dog was going to be killed as a result of this dogfight," said Cpl. Mark Lucas, of the Vermont State Police.

But the owner of the dog, Mindy Maskell, said her dog was brutally murdered and demanded that Wootton be held accountable.

"Before this is over, we will have justice. He's supposed to protect and serve our community and he shoots and kills a dog ... that's not protecting and serving by any means," said Maskell.

The dog killing occurred on Phyllis Lane in Waterville, police said.


Case Updates

After deliberating for about six hours Tuesday, a jury found an Essex police officer not guilty of cruelty to animals for fatally shooting his neighbors dog in April.

Michael Wootton, 35, of Waterville pleaded not guilty to the charge, though he admitted shooting Hooch, an 80 pound pit bull mix, to protect his 20 pound pug, Yoda. The two dogs got into a fight April 30 after Yoda, unleashed, wandered onto Hoochs owners property.

Woottons family and supporters cheered when the verdict was announced at about 8:30 p.m. in Vermont District Court in Hyde Park. Wootton smiled and hugged his relatives.

The owners of the slain dog groaned in disappointment.

"I didnt see it coming", said Mindy Maskell, the daughter of Hoochs owners.
Source: Burlington Free Press - Nov 17, 2009
Update posted on Nov 18, 2009 - 11:58AM 
Was it animal cruelty or protecting a pet? That's what a Lamoille County jury will have to decide in the case of an Essex Police officer who is accused of shooting and killing his neighbor's dog.

Essex Police officer Michael Wootton was off-duty when he claims he was forced to shoot his neighbor's large dog fearing it was about to kill his family's small dog. But the dead animal's owners say Wootton did not have to kill their beloved pet so it was a crime.

"Hooch was laying down on the ground, and my daughter was laying on him, and also my friend Shawn were on him and Hooch was still alive at that time," said the dog's owner Mindy Maskell.

"No he never physically tried to get Yoda," said Shawn Hickock who witnessed the shooting.

Hickock testified that Wootton made no attempt to break up the fight before he got a gun, returned, and shot Hooch in the stomach.

"I was walking toward him looking at the scenario of him pointing the gun at Hooch and asking him not to shoot repeatedly," said Hickock.

Wootton's first witness was his wife Jackie. She told the jury that Hooch had terrified the neighborhood since he arrived at the Rogers home four years ago.

"My children were playing outside, and I was outside as well, and he started to growl and hair stood up on his neck. This was quite concerning to me cause my children were outside," she said.

Despite her concerns, on cross-examination, Mrs. Wootton testified that she never notified authorities about her fears and concerns about Hooch.

Tuesday, other neighbors are reportedly also going to testify about their fears about Hooch. We do not know if Officer Wootton will take the stand before the case goes to the jury.
Source: wcax.com - Nov 16, 2009
Update posted on Nov 18, 2009 - 11:51AM 
The case of an off-duty police officer who shot and killed a neighbor's dog appears to be headed to trial.

Essex police Officer Michael Wootton pleaded not guilty last month to a charge of cruelty to animals in Lamoille County District Court in Hyde Park. A jury draw for the trial has been set for Nov. 2.

Wootton's lawyer had argued there was no probable cause for the charge and it should be dismissed, but the judge did not agree. If convicted Wootton could face a fine of up to $2,000, up to a year in prison, or both.

In court documents, police said Wootton admitted to shooting and killing a mixed-breed dog named "Hooch" after Hooch got into a fight with his own dog -- a small pug -- in his Waterville neighborhood in April.

Wootton told investigators his pug was attacked by Hooch and his only option was to "shoot the attacking animal," according to court papers.

Mindy Maskell, the owner of Hooch, said her family is still shaken over his "murder."

"We lost our dog because his dog wasn't leashed. Bottom line is he came over to our property, our land and shot and killed our dog," said Maskell.

Essex police said the department's internal affairs unit is investigating the matter and that Wootton has been transferred from uniform patrol duties to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
Source: WPTZ - Sept 18, 2009
Update posted on Sep 20, 2009 - 7:59PM 
The attorney for Essex police Officer Michael Wootton filed a motion Monday in Vermont District Court in Hyde Park to dismiss animal cruelty charges against his client.

Prosecutors have 10 days to respond, Lamoille County State's Attorney Joel Page said.

Wootton, 35, a full-time officer, was placed on administrative duties after he shot his neighbor's 80-pound mixed breed dog, Hooch, on April 30 on Phyllis Lane in Waterville. Hooch was owned by Ritchie and Rosemary Rogers.

Wootton said he shot the dog to protect his 20-pound pug, Yoda.

He said he was looking from his window at about 12:30 p.m. when he saw Hooch attack Yoda, biting at his throat. He said he ran next door and, with the Rogers' daughter, Mindy Maskell, and her friend, Shawn Hickok, tried unsuccessfully to separate the dogs.

He said in a sworn statement that he ran home to get his handgun. The dogs had been separated by the time he returned, but Wootton said Hooch was unsecured and attacked Yoda again. Wootton fired one .45-caliber bullet and killed the dog.

The state's attorney said the legality of the shooting was somewhat muddled, as one Vermont law prohibits the killing of a pet without the owner's consent, while another law permits such a killing if one animal attacks another with a reasonable threat of causing injury.

"There's an overlap between them," Page said. "Kind of a gray area."

The maximum penalty for cruelty to animals is a fine of $2,000 and up to one year in prison.

Wootton's next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Source: Burlington Free Press - July 25, 2009
Update posted on Sep 20, 2009 - 7:58PM 

References

  • WPTZ - April 30, 2009

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