Probation, fines in sheepdog case

Brothers plead no contest in Crook County court, no hunting for two years

staff report / The Bulletin /

Published Oct 29, 2013 at 05:00AM

Two hunters, one a retired Oregon State Police trooper, pleaded no contest Tuesday in Prineville to a single count each of misdemeanor animal abuse for the killings in August 2012 of three Great Pyrenees sheepdogs in the Ochoco National Forest.

Brothers Paul Johnson, 67, of Roseburg, and Craig Johnson, 60, a retired OSP officer, of Bend, were sentenced to two years probation, 80 hours community service and $500 fines, said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins. Presiding Circuit Court Judge Daniel Ahern also ordered a .223-caliber rifle the pair used to kill the dogs forfeited, Vitolins said.

A hunting ban on the pair is fitting punishment, said Vitolins, who had asked for five years probation. The two men, while bowhunting elk near the Walton Lake Snow Park, shot the three dogs, which were property of Gordon Clark of Madras, according to the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.

The dogs provided protection against predators for the thousands of Clark’s sheep grazing on national forest allotments at the time.

In court, the brothers claimed they shot the dogs because they were chasing elk, were aggressive toward them, and that they never saw the band of about 1,000 sheep grazing nearby, Vitolins said. “They then blamed the victim, Gordon Clark,” Vitolins said.

She said the brothers faulted Clark for failing to post the proper signs that his flock was grazing nearby and for failing to properly mark the dogs and keep them close to the flock. Clark and Vitolins said the sheep owner had posted signs.

A call to Paul Johnson was not returned Monday. A number for Craig Johnson was disconnected.

Contacted at their hunting camp Aug. 27, 2012, by sheriff’s Deputy Brian Bottoms, Craig Johnson said the “dogs screwed up their hunt by chasing the elk out of the area,” Bottoms wrote in his report. “‘Quite frankly, we were going to shoot every one of them,’ meaning what they believed to be the wild dogs that they saw.”

The two, at first, allowed Bottoms to leave the camp without telling the deputy they knew anything about the shootings, according to the deputy. When Bottoms returned later in the day, Craig Johnson owned up to the shootings, the deputy wrote. “Craig also informed me it was not until I had mentioned the sheepherders guard dogs were shot that his heart sank, and he knew at that time they had screwed up,” Bottoms’ report states.

Attorney Jon Springer, of Bend, said Monday he’s known Craig Johnson “the better part of 30 years.” Springer represented the former trooper on the shooting charges. “I find Craig Johnson to be one of the most honest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Springer said. “When he came to me, telling me this is the story, I believed him.”

Bottom line, Springer said, “both Paul and Craig Johnson had a reasonable belief these dogs were feral, they were chasing wildlife and they were threatening them.”

Clark, who brought a 5-month-old Great Pyrenees to the courthouse parking lot for Ahern to see, said he expected the pair would receive heftier fines and more community service.

“It’s sad to hear a retired state policeman tell one story to the arresting officer, another story to the grand jury and another story in court today — none of which makes sense,” Clark said. “And to hear his brother say he drove all around the area and saw dog tracks and missed a thousand sheep was also troubling.”

The two were indicted on three counts each of first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and first-degree animal abuse.

Paul Johnson’s defense attorney J. Brendon Alexander, of Bend, said his client believes he did nothing wrong. The Johnsons’ dispute portions of Bottoms’ report and Clark’s knowledge of sheep and dog behavior, he said. Alexander and Spring said that once their clients understood Bottoms was investigating a report of sheepdogs shot to death, they acknowledged shooting the animals.

The two remained at the scene, camping, after shooting the dogs, evidence of their lack of consciousness of guilt, Anderson said Monday. According to Bottoms’ report, Craig Johnson told him he shot one dog chasing an elk and his brother shot two more, one “barking and growling” at them and another standing in the road.

“He’s sick about it; he really is,” Alexander said about Paul Johnson. “Neither of these guys had any consciousness of guilt, never felt they did anything wrong.”