Two brothers convicted of killing three livestock guardian dogs in 2012 while hunting in the Ochocos were ordered to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the dogs’ owner Tuesday by a Crook County jury.
Paul Johnson, 69, of Roseburg, and Craig Johnson, 62, a retired Oregon State Police trooper, of Bend, told a Crook County sheriff’s deputy in 2012 they believed the three Great Pyrenees sheepdogs they confessed to shooting were wild dogs.
The jury award followed a criminal case in which the brothers pleaded no contest to a single count each of misdemeanor animal abuse. They were sentenced to two years’ probation, 80 hours of community service and $500 fines in late October 2013. They were also banned from hunting for one year and had to forfeit the .223-caliber rifle used to kill the dogs, according to Greg Lynch, attorney for Gordon Clark, 83, of Madras, the dogs’ owner.
A jury returned a verdict this week after an eight-day trial. The brothers were ordered to pay Clark $7,500 for the replacement value of the dogs, $100,000 in emotional harm and $139,500 in punitive damages. Clark plans to donate money left over after litigation costs to an animal welfare society like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Then-Undersheriff John Gautney told The Bulletin in 2012 he “never had another report of a wild dog in that area.” Clark’s hired hands found the dogs’ bodies with fatal gunshot wounds Aug. 27, 2012 on an Ochoco grazing allotment.
The Johnsons told the sheriff’s deputy who responded to the call they were unfamiliar with large sheep herds in the area. Gautney pointed out at the time that the entry to the brothers’ camp had large caution signs about sheep grazing nearby.
Clark credited Deputy Bryan Bottoms on Wednesday for solving the case. He explained Bottoms had found shell casings and footprints where the dogs had been shot.
“They lied to him, said they were hunting somewhere else,” Clark said. “He saw the bottom of their feet, so he knew who it was.”
After bringing in back-up and interrogating the brothers further, “the retired policeman confessed,” Clark said.
Lann Leslie, who represented Craig Johnson, said Thursday the trip in August 2012 was the first time the brothers had hunted in the Ochocos.
“In response to using an elk bugle, they heard many dogs bark,” Leslie said. “The barking dogs seemed to be approaching them and they thought under the circumstances they were wild dogs. They did not see any sheep.”
Leslie said his client also didn’t see any signs posted about sheep. Craig Johnson worked as an OSP trooper for 30 years and a game officer for five.
“He was not a game officer at the time, but under the sudden and kind of unfolding circumstances he was faced with, he saw dogs running elk and concluded under the circumstances that they were wild dogs that were doing this,” Leslie said, adding the event was “kind of a perfect storm,” and after the brothers found out the dogs were not wild, they felt “very badly.”
Leslie would not comment whether he and his client plan to file an appeal but did say they are “assessing the jury verdict.” He and his client want to see the situation resolved, and the longer it’s a legal matter, the harder that is to do, Leslie said.
Brendon Alexander, who represented Paul Johnson in the suit, said Lynch worked diligently as Clark’s legal counsel.
“We’re looking at all our options, including appeals,” Alexander said, adding his client would not comment. “It was a very difficult trial. The judge worked very hard with some very novel issues.”
Lynch said Thursday he was “elated” with the verdict.
“The purpose of the lawsuit was to make a statement and to address a profound wrong,” Lynch said. “These guys went out into the woods with a rifle during bow season and shot three Great Pyrenees because they were screwing up their hunt.” The men came to court offering “lots and lots of different excuses,” Lynch said, adding, “the jury just didn’t buy it.” Lynch, who is a board member at the Humane Society for the Ochocos, said it’s “outrageous that someone would do this anyway, but a 30-year senior trooper for OSP…”
Clark said he still runs the 52,500-acre Hay Creek Ranch. Right now, he has more than 20 Great Pyrenees dogs to oversee his herds. In the summer, the sheep walk from the ranch just east of Madras up to the Ochoco Mountains, where there are grazing allotments.
“I have a lot of dogs, but these dogs were born in my garage, and I raised them for the first couple months of their life,” Clark said of Elvira, Tony and Jackie Chan, the three dogs killed in 2012.
Clark said the dogs are approachable, and even though they bond with the sheep, they are around humans often. A contracted sheepherder travels with the Great Pyrenees and the herd.
“They could have walked up and pet the dogs,” Clark said. “Instead they shot them.”
Clark is relieved a verdict has been reached in his favor after all these years, but it doesn’t change the fact that his dogs were killed.
“I wish it never happened,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org