Case Snapshot
Case ID: 18032
Classification: Shooting
Animal: cat
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Attorneys/Judges
Prosecutor(s): Kasey Vu
Defense(s): Steve Thayer, Tom Phelan, Mike Foister
Judge(s): Rich Melnick


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



Sunday, Jun 5, 2011

County: Clark

Disposition: Convicted

Defendants/Suspects:
» Jaren M. Koistinen
» Riley J. Munger
» Mitchell S. Kangas

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

An investigation by Battle Ground Police into a cat being shot Sunday led to the arrest of three teens who are allegedly responsible for five cases of cats being shot in the area.

At just before 8 p.m. June 5, Battle Ground police were investigating a report that a cat had been shot in the 700 block of Northeast 3rd Avenue. Police saw a vehicle attempting to leave the area that matched the vehicle description of a suspect. Police were able to catch up to the vehicle and stopped it in the 400 block of Northwest Onsdorff Blvd.

As police approached the blue Ford Explorer, they saw several .22 caliber shell casings. The three males in the vehicle -- two of whom are 16 and one of whom is 17 -- were taken into custody and booked into juvenile detention. Criminal charges of drive by shooting, unlawful discharge of a firearm, animal cruelty and possession of a loaded weapon in a vehicle are being filed. Two .22 caliber rifles were recovered from the vehicle along with several hundred rounds of ammunition. One of the rifles was loaded when it was recovered by the officers.

This investigation will close five cases from the last few months of cats being reported shot within Battle Ground City limits and several others just outside City limits. The three boys admitted to shooting at least 50 cats. Further investigations are ongoing with Clark County Sheriff's department.


Case Updates

Judge Rich Melnick looked out into the courtroom. In several rows sat owners of injured cats. They had filed to the front and described the injuries inflicted on their pets, named Groucho, Amber and Scrapper.

One was shot in the eye; another one in the leg; another, the face.

In other rows sat the defendants' family and friends, who gave another account: defendants Jaren Koistinen, 17, Mitchell Kangas, 16, and Riley Munger, 17, were never violent; they were model students, hard workers and had never had run-ins with the law, they said.

What compelled them to shoot at about 100 cats between March and June is still not clear, Melnick conceded.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the judge said he came to this conclusion: "I think they're youth."

He sentenced the most culpable, Koistinen and Kangas, to 1 year and 11 weeks to 1 year and 32 weeks in a juvenile institution, despite the fact the prosecution requested an exceptional sentence of just over two years. Munger, who participated in one night's shooting, received a month in juvenile hall.

Koistinen and Kangas, who were students at Battle Ground High School, pleaded guilty Sept. 14 to 12 counts of first-degree animal cruelty and drive-by shooting. Munger, formerly a student at La Center High School, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree animal cruelty.

Tuesday's sentencing ended a high-profile case that sparked dozens of phone calls and letters to the Clark County Prosecutor's Office and to the judge.

"It's impacted the community in ways I've never seen," said Melnick, who, before becoming a judge, was a veteran deputy prosecutor.

Melnick, telling the courtroom that he has two rescued dogs at home, said he, at first, had considered giving the defendants the high range. But he took into account the teens' impeccable records and the fact that psychologists determined they were a low risk to the community.

A psychologist told Melnick in a pre-sentence report that the teens don't exhibit signs of antisocial behavior, nor have they ever been violent. Their actions show a lack of judgment, impulse control and empathy toward others " something that's increasingly prevalent in juvenile men, said psychologist Kirk Johnson.

Melnick said the community would benefit more from the teens being rehabilitated by community service work and undergoing counseling than being incarcerated for a longer period.

The judge also ordered Koistinen and Kangas to be under community supervision until their 21st birthdays. In juvenile matters, probation officials determine the final outcome.

"To close this portion, I hope the healing starts," the judge said.

The punishment would have been far greater had the teens been sentenced in adult court " Koistinen and Kangas would have faced about 10 years in prison. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu said he and Prosecutor Tony Golik had engaged in several meetings with defense attorneys Steve Thayer, Tom Phelan and Mike Foister. Vu said he wanted the teens to be held accountable, but he also wanted them to be rehabilitated.

They appeared remorseful at the sentencing hearing. Each one of them turned around to address pet owners, contrite as they apologized.

"I'm so sorry for what I've done," Kangas said, before breaking down and weeping. "If we would have stopped and thought about it once, it wouldn't have been repeated."

The teens were arrested June 5 after a Battle Ground resident called police to report her cat had been shot. She saw the shooters and described their SUV. When the defendants' SUV was stopped minutes later, two .22-caliber rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition were found inside, prosecutors said.

Questioned by officers, Koistinen and Kangas admitted to shooting at 100 cats and two dogs, possibly injuring or killing about 50. Not all the animals were accounted for, Vu said.

Shelly Boyd of Battle Ground told the judge that her 17-year-old cat, Groucho, was shot in the eye. She found him at 1:30 in the morning one day last spring near her garage.

"My cat was laying at the front of the door with blood everywhere," she said. "We didn't think he was going to make it at all."

"And he is better, thank God," she added.

Like other victims who spoke at the hearing, Boyd asked for tough penalties, describing the crimes as horrendous.

But at hearing's end, she made a surprising request to the judge.

Approaching the teens in tears, she said: "I just wanted to give you a hug and say, 'I forgive you.' " She hugged each of them as they sheepishly returned the embrace, hanging their heads.

Then, the defendants embraced their parents, let custody officers handcuff them and were escorted from the courtroom.
Source: columbian.com - Oct 4, 2011
Update posted on Oct 6, 2011 - 11:28AM 
After hearing testimony about three teens who went on a three-month cat-shooting spree earlier this year, Judge Rich Melnick kept saying the word, "disturbing."

"Obviously, it's a disturbing situation," the judge said Wednesday.

"This is a disturbing case," he added minutes later after hearing more evidence.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu had told the judge that Mitchell Kangas, 16, and Jaren Koistinen, 17, spent March to June driving around northern Clark County and shooting cats. Some were killed; most were injured. One cat was paralyzed, "so the cat's crawling on his front two paws," Vu said.

In total, Vu said the teens admitted to police to shooting at 100 cats and two dogs. Kangas and Koistinen only admitted in court to 12 shootings, pleading guilty to 12 counts of first-degree animal cruelty and one count of drive-by shooting. Riley Munger, 17, who said he only participated in one night's shooting, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree animal cruelty.

As the teens entered their pleas, several victims sat behind them in the courtroom, waiting to address the judge about the teens' sentence. Others stood in the packed courtroom for their turn. They would have to wait.

Sentencing was set to happen at Wednesday's hearing. But the judge said he needed more time to review the case after receiving two large volumes of psychological tests and a folder of victim impact statements. He also ordered juvenile officials to conduct a pre-sentence report of the three.

A hearing to set sentencing was set for Thursday morning.

Vu said he planned to recommend a 108-week sentence, or just over two years in a juvenile institution. Steve Thayer, attorney for Kangas, and Tom Phelan, attorney for Koistinen, said they planned to recommend a one-year sentence.

The least culpable, Munger, agreed to a 30-day sentence in juvenile hall, defense attorney Mike Foister said.

In the juvenile system, a two-year sentence for those charges is well above the standard sentencing range. But Kangas and Koistinen agreed to an exceptional range of 52 to 108 weeks as part of the plea bargain, Vu said.

The hearing also served as the teens' arraignment, as prosecutors didn't charge them until Tuesday afternoon. Vu said he was in negotiations with defense attorneys since the teens' June 5 arrest to resolve the case before making a formal charging decision.

Vu told the judge the case surfaced when a Battle Ground resident reported to police that her cat was shot the evening of June 5. She described the shooters' dark-colored SUV. Minutes later, an officer stopped a Ford Explorer that matched the description.

Two rifles were found inside, Vu said, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition. In an interview with police, Kangas and Koistinen admitted to the shooting that evening and dozens of others.

"He (Koistinen) couldn't give a definitive number," Vu said. "According to him, they always shot from the car and they didn't get out to check on the cats."

The judge asked the defendants which one did the most shootings. Kangas said he and Koistinen alternated between driving and shooting.

When Munger's case was heard, he initially said he went along with the two not knowing they were going to shoot cats. His attorney clarified that Munger quickly realized that was the plan. Foister also told the judge that Munger hid the gun when the police officer stopped the SUV.

"Do you agree that your actions were aiding and abetting?," Melnick asked. Munger said yes.

Court papers indicate that Munger didn't do any of the actual shootings, but pointed out cats for the others to shoot.

Kangas and Koistinen were taken into custody following the hearing; Munger was released to his parents.

All three teens have no criminal record. Kangas and Koistinen are juniors at Battle Ground High School and Munger is a senior at La Center High School.
Source: columbian.com - Sep 14, 2011
Update posted on Sep 15, 2011 - 9:10AM 
Three teenagers who were expected to be appear in court this morning on charges relating to an alleged shooting rampage of 100 cats agreed to postpone their arraignment until June 28.

Mitchell S. Kangas, 16, Jaren M. Koistinen, 16, and Riley J. Munger, 17, will be formally charged at 1:30 p.m. June 28 in Clark County Superior Court.

Prosecutors have yet to file charges, but have said they are considering charges of drive-by shooting and animal cruelty among other allegations.

Koistinen and Kangas are sophomores at Battle Ground High School and Munger is a junior at La Center High School.

The three were arrested Sunday night in Battle Ground after a resident reported that her cat was shot in the face. She saw the shooters and described their SUV to police, according to court documents.

When the teens' Ford Explorer was stopped by a police officer minutes later, a loaded rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition were found inside, according to Battle Ground police. When questioned, Kangas allegedly admitted to shooting 50 cats in northern Clark County over the past two months, according to court documents.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Camara Banfield said at the teens' first court appearance that investigators believe at least 100 cats were shot.

All three have been released from the Clark County Jail after posting bond.
Source: columbian.com - Jun 10, 2011
Update posted on Jun 10, 2011 - 12:18PM 

References

« WA State Animal Cruelty Map
« More cases in Clark County, WA

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