by Eric Stearley
On the afternoon of Monday, March 10th, officers from the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department and the North Manchester Police Department investigated citizen reports of a methamphetamine lab at a residence in Liberty Mills. According to court records, the resident ultimately consented to a search of the location, which confirmed the officers’ suspicions, but not before three individuals fled through a back door. North Manchester Police Officer Nate Birch and his K-9 partner, Hawk, were called to assist other law enforcement personnel in locating the three individuals. The suspects led officers along the banks of the Eel River toward the Herbert L. Taylor Audubon Preserve. The chase resulted in the arrest of all three individuals. It also resulted in the shooting of two family pets, Newfoundland dogs belonging to Ernie and Janice Bradley.
In his report, Officer Birch stated that he put a tracking harness and 15-foot leash on K-9 Hawk to begin the track. Shortly thereafter, he met up with North Manchester Police Sergeant Jon Pace. K-9 Hawk tracked footprints north toward the Eel River then followed them back out toward a nearby field, where they tracked along the river and through the Herbert L. Taylor Audubon Preserve.
Sgt. Pace stated in his report that they tracked the subjects through the woods to a nature preserve trail, but he was unable to keep up with the K-9 and Officer Birch at that time, falling as much as 100 yards behind the pair. The chase continued into southern Kosciusko County.
During this time, Indiana Conservation Officer Jon Engle apprehended one of the three subjects, Cassie Staton, near the entrance to the Audubon Preserve. Officer Birch saw Officer Engle with a female in custody near the entrance. He also saw two dogs pass by Officer Engle and continue toward him and K-9 Hawk. One of the dogs was black, the other was light brown, and both were very large.
In his account of the incident that followed, Officer Birch reported that he reeled Hawk in so that the K-9 was directly next to his left leg and then turned to his left to keep the dogs separated from Hawk. He yelled at the two dogs to get back, but they kept coming.
According to Officer Birch, the light brown dog reached Hawk first, jumped on his back, and bit Hawk just above the hindquarters. The black dog began to attack Hawk around his face, striking him with paws and snapping his mouth at him. He said that at that point, all of the dogs were growling at each other in an aggressive manner.
Officer Birch reported that he was still rotating to his left to get the dogs apart when he called for help from Officer Engle. The black dog was still striking and scratching at Hawk’s face; during several rotations in an attempt to pull Hawk away from the other two dogs, they continued to engage the K-9.
At that point, that Officer Birch reported that he drew his firearm and shot the black dog directly in front of him to protect Hawk and himself. The light brown dog backed off about five feet, and before he could take any other action, the dog charged again in an aggressive manner. Officer Birch then shot the light brown dog. Both dogs were shot in the head. The light brown dog laid down for a short time before getting back up and running into a field. The black dog remained motionless on the ground.
Janice Bradley arrived home shortly thereafter to find a conservation officer’s vehicle in her driveway. She went inside to ask her husband, Ernie, what was going on. He had just woken up and the two walked outside to find the officer.
Ernie asked Officer Engle what was going on and was informed of the ongoing chase resulting from the drug bust, and that he was arresting one of the individuals. Immediately, Ernie asked where his dogs were. According to Bradley, Officer Engle informed Ernie that the dogs ran by him as he was arresting Staton, but that they were just being dogs, and they didn’t bother him.
“He said, ‘I heard two shots. I hope they did not kill your dogs, sir,’” said Bradley.
After radioing dispatch to advise that he had to put down two dogs that had attacked Hawk, Officer Birch was told by Sgt. Pace to hold his position. Sgt. Pace caught up to Officer Birch and K-9 Hawk. Officer Birch reported that they heard a man and woman calling for two dogs, prompting the officers to approach the Bradley residence.
“Mr. Bradley said that he was looking for his dogs,” Officer Birch wrote in his report. “I asked Mr. Bradley if they were a large light brown and darker dog. I informed Mr. Bradley that I had to shoot his dogs to protect my K-9 Hawk and myself.”
“He said, ‘Well, we were tracking these people and I told your dogs, ‘police, halt,’ they did not halt and I took them down,” said Janice. “He didn’t offer to show where they were at, didn’t offer to help bring the dogs up.”
“He said, ‘If anything comes near my dog, I’ll shoot it,’” said Ernie.
Mr. Bradley became very upset, and Sgt. Pace told Officer Birch to go ahead to the road while he talked with the Bradleys.
Dispatch informed Officer Birch that a sheriff’s deputy found fresh footprints. Deputy Steve Hicks picked up Officer Birch, K-9 Hawk, and North Manchester Police Officer David Rigney, who was still at the scene of the drug bust. The team immediately headed to the location of the fresh footprints and started tracking. Hawk led the officers to a brown pickup truck near a grey barn where the remaining two individuals, later identified as Chad Jackson and Kyle Davidson, were located and arrested.
During this time, Mr. Bradley contacted the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department and asked to have a state police officer dispatched to investigate the shooting of his dogs. Following the arrest of Jackson and Davidson, Indiana State Police Trooper Tim Carpenter arrived on the scene and took taped statements from officers Birch and Pace.
Ernie and Janice located their dogs and discovered that the oldest dog, Kramer, was dead, but that their 8-month-old, McAfee, was still alive. They transported Mc, as they call him, to the Manchester Veterinary Clinic where he was treated by Dr. Jeffrey Pyle.
“The bullet impacted him on the top of the head to the inside of the left eye,” said Pyle. “The bullet passed through his left eye and went directly down through his face and skull…and exited through the throat area.”
The bullet destroyed Mc’s left eye and did extensive damage to his throat area. Pyle is not sure how he survived.
“I call him my miracle boy, because there are a lot of important things that bullet missed by, literally, millimeters,” said Pyle. “It still did a lot of damage. Don’t get me wrong.”
Pyle said Mc was shot at near point-blank range. He removed the left eye and performed major reconstructive surgery on Mc’s throat to enable proper breathing and swallowing. He was released the following Monday with stitches in his head and eye and pain medication.
“He walked out the door with his tail wagging,” said Pyle.
Mr. Bradley later contacted the North Manchester Town Council in an attempt to have Officer Birch’s badge and gun taken away until the investigation concluded. North Manchester Town Marshall Jeffrey Perry would not comment on whether any action was taken as a result. Bradley is also seeking financial compensation to cover his loss.
“I’m going to have extensive medical bills and he’s never going to be the same,” said Bradley.
In addition to medical bills, replacing Kramer could be expensive. After serving his purpose for more than five years, breeders Len and Stephanie Zeglicz gave Kramer to the Bradleys after Bradleys paid to have him neutered. Zegliczs said they wanted him to go someplace where he could be spoiled for the rest of his life, which was likely a few years, as Newfoundlands have a short life expectancy.
“He was the best dog I ever had,” said Bradley. “I loved him so much, I wanted another Newfoundland.”
Bradley contacted Zegliczs and bought McAfee, a top specimen, for $1,400. Bradley hopes to replace his beloved dog, which could cost as much.
“They’re coming on his property, and you look at the injury, he didn’t try to injure him, he tried to kill him,” said Stephanie. “It’s not like, ‘oh, I see him coming, I’m going to shoot him in the leg and injure him.’ Both shots were head shots.”
“The big thing I guess I really want to stress is, I just don’t want this to happen to anybody else ever again,” said Bradley. “This whole thing was just screwed up, and it put everybody in this community in harm’s way, because of the way they went about it. It should have been coordinated a lot better. Sloppy police work is what it comes down to. They should never have been out running through the woods. It ended up with one dead dog and the other one severely wounded.”
Bradley contends that the three suspects should never have been able to escape out the back door, and that some kind of perimeter should have been set up around the Liberty Mills residence. As the incident started with citizen reports in the area, a search warrant was not obtained before police spoke with the resident, Jamie Hall. It is unclear whether officers knew how many people were inside the residence at the time.
Bradley is also suspicious of the alleged attack of K-9 Hawk by his dogs.
“I saw their dog. There wasn’t any marks on his dog,” said Bradley. “My dogs were shot just because they’re big. They’re Newfoundlands. Their nickname is ‘gentle giants.’ They’re big teddy bears. Of course, if a big dog comes toward you, you don’t know if it’s a teddy bear or not, I guess. But, my dogs were shot at home, this is where they lived, and I’m very upset.”
Bradley lives on more than ten acres of land just across the Kosciusko County line, adjacent to the Audubon Preserve. The dogs were, in fact, taken down on Audubon Preserve property. Bradley said that his dogs were shot 10 to 20 feet from his property line, and that as a caretaker for the Audubon, he mows the area in which they were shot, so “that was basically home too.”
Dr. Pyle, also a Newfoundland owner, agrees that Newfoundlands are not typically aggressive dogs, and that they are less territorial than most dogs.
“They’re normally a gentle dog, not particularly aggressive,” he said. “Now if you back them into a corner or put him in a situation where someone was threatening one of our family members, he’d take care of business. If you have a lot of shouting, yelling, excitement, you don’t know what they would do. They’re a dog. And this is not Newfoundlands. This is all dogs.”
He also said that Mc was particularly docile, calling him a sweetheart and noting that he never made any mean or aggressive move when coming into contact with dozens of people during his stay at the clinic. Several times, Pyle let him walk through the kennel area and he would walk up to each kennel, put his nose to the cage and wag his tail, wanting to play with the other dogs.
“I wasn’t there when it happened and neither was Mr. Bradley,” said Dr. Pyle. “One thing about Newfoundland dogs is, they’re a large dog, and a large dog just by its size is intimidating to most people. Two of them coming at you, it would be intimidating even if they were coming to be friendly. And we don’t know how the officer’s dog was reacting to the two other dogs.”
K-9 Hawk would have been about half the size of the Newfoundlands and could have easily been overtaken by the two. Though the North Manchester Police Department would not comment on where Hawk was treated for his injuries, Town Manager Dan Hannaford confirmed that the K-9 unit’s medical care is handled by East State Veterinary Clinic in Fort Wayne, but did not know details about the injuries. He did note that any injuries sustained were likely not serious, as Hawk was able to continue tracking the other two suspects after the attack.
“He is back in service,” said Town Marshall Perry. “Any injuries, I’m not going to talk about.”
When asked why he wouldn’t share the details of Hawk’s injuries, he said that they have been informed of a possible lawsuit coming and that he was not making any statements. The same was true when asked about Officer Birch’s continued duty.
“I have no further comments on it,” said Perry.
East State Veterinary Clinic confirmed that Hawk was seen by a veterinarian, but could not release any details without permission from the dog’s owner, in this case, Town Marshall Perry.
Mc is scheduled to have his sutures removed this week. Bradley said that he hasn’t been quite as lively as he was before the incident. Bradley thinks it’s less about the injury and more because he misses his best friend, Kramer. Bradley is awaiting a response from the Town Council and plans to pursue legal action if he is not compensated for his loss.