Case Snapshot
Case ID: 6367
Classification: Theft
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Saturday, Jul 31, 1993

County: Columbia

Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Van H Johnston

Case Updates: 1 update(s) available

In September 1993, Van H Johnston, 42, was sentenced for stealing his girlfriend's dog. The case began with allegations that a private citizen found Johnston struggling with a dog. Johnston told the citizen, who later called Pardeeville police, that he was with the Columbia County Sheriff's Department and confiscating the dog because it was abused by being poisoned.

The citizen told actual officers the dog bit Johnston 50-60 times, and "it was obvious ... that the dog did not wish to be with the defendant," according to a criminal complaint. The informant also told police Johnston appeared intoxicated, and that Johnston had beer visible in the car he threw the dog into, making it impossible that Johnston was a police officer.

Johnston pleaded no contest in September 1993 to misdemeanor intentional dognapping and was sentenced to probation with conditions including court costs and restitution. A judge dismissed a felony count of impersonating police to commit a crime.

Case Updates

An accused dognapper and police impersonator was homeless and suffering from mental health issues during the 10 years he absconded from probation, his attorney told a judge Tuesday.
But that explanation didn't save Van H. Johnston, 53, formerly of Pardeeville, from being sentenced to jail time for dodging his court-ordered supervision. Columbia County Circuit Judge Daniel George ordered Johnston to serve over two months in jail in addition to the nearly four months the man has already served since being arrested in August.

"This is an unusual case," George said Tuesday. "The charge itself is somewhat peculiar and not one of those that ordinarily comes up, and the circumstances involving the defendant absconding and essentially being disconnected from any kind of supervision for a period of about 10 years."

Assistant State Public Defender Liz Mitchel said Tuesday that the prosecution long ago got rid of police records, so there was little information available as to Johnston's specific actions in 1993 other than a criminal complaint. Mitchel, however, said Johnston claimed to her that he took the dog during a break-up with former girlfriend, because he believed the woman would treat the dog poorly, Mitchel said. And Johnston did nothing to hurt the dog, she added.

In arguing for no additional jail time, Mitchel said Johnston was to be discharged from probation in 2004, according to a letter written by Johnston's probation agent at the time. Mitchel called that "very, very significant" in speaking to what little threat Johnston was and how much punishment he required.

Assistant District Attorney Troy Cross said by ignoring a court-ordered term of supervision for so long, Johnston was "striking at the heart of the system." He asked for the maximum nine-month jail sentence.

George noted the defense's arguments, but said, "What is extremely troubling to the court is the fact that the defendant disappeared for about 10 years and was not subject to supervision during that time. � Obviously the fact that somebody ignores their responsibility on probation for this protracted period of time is something the court takes very seriously."

George also said he was concerned that Johnston's August arrest stemmed from a somewhat violent domestic disturbance.

"The court considers that a jail sanction is the only one that has any significance here," George said.
Source: Portage Daily Register - November 30, 2005
Update posted on Nov 30, 2005 - 8:13PM 


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