Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Grumpy Night

By the time I go off duty at 6 pm yesterday I was in a pretty grumpy mood. Mostly it was due to an exchange of Emails about Heather Roger's horse. Those who visit regularly probably remember that Heather's two horses were shot by a nieghbor two weeks ago. One died and other was wounded.

Like many others in Two Rivers, I've been writing to borough officials and sent a letter to the editor of our local paper, hoping to light a fire under the butts of the alleged law enforcement and/or animal control officers responsible for investigating and pursuing animal cruelty cases. Last night I was feeling like I was being stonewalled by the borough mayor's office, and that nothing short of a full-scale local uprising would instigate any action in this case.

The case did get an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner back on the 26th. Although I had been told that numerous people had sent editorial letters to the paper, none had appeared by yesterday, probably buried in the flood of election year propaganda letters that are an inevitable part of the democratic process.

Like many of my friends and neighbors, I am very disappointed in the "official" response to the incident. With shelter manager Matthew Ruger out of town, the senior ACO in the case apparently decided to turn the case over to the Alaska State Troopers. That would have been a wise decision considering that the alleged shooter has a reputation for a volatile temperament fueld by intoxicants and manifested with firearms. The resulting delay in interviewing the victim and searching the scene for evidence has not done much to bolster confidence, though. I believe the ACO, who is known to be well trained in investigating horse related cruelty cases, would have been wiser to simply request an armed trooper accompany him as he led the investigation.

According to the informal "mukluk telegraph" consisting of many friends and neighbors who keep my apprised of local issues via Email while I'm away at my place of employment, when a trooper finally did show up to 'investigate'the case five days later, and the trooper admitted to being very inexperienced in such cases and unsure of how he should procede. Although a consultation with the more experienced animal control officer might have provided some insight and guidance, there is no indication that such a phone call was even attempted.

Of course no one is being provided much in the way of reliable information from officaldom. When I inquired about progress in the case, an assistant to the borough mayor gave me the typical "we are unable to comment on the status or the specifics of an ongoing trooper investigation." In other words, she side-stepped the question. She claimed to have forwarded my request for follow up to the troopers, but I've heard nothing from them.

Meanwhile, however, again according to the mukluk telegraph, when others have inquired about the case, animal control division staffers have told them "Tom Swan in Two Rivers is satisfied."

Well, I'm NOT satisfied. I'm not even mollified. If it takes AST five days to respond to a complaint involving the unlawful use of a firearm to kill an animal, how long will it take them to respond to a complaint involving the death of a human being? If they can't manage a relatively simple misdemeanor investigation, how can we possibly have any confidence at all in their ability to investigate a felony?

When I first came to Alaska in the early 1990s, the Alaska State Troopers enjoyed a strong reputation as a competent albeit arogant police force. Since then the old-school cops who were hired during pipeline construction and earned that reputation for competent police work in the school of hard knocks have retired. Today AST troopers seem to have retained their arrogance, but are reputed to be a bunch of rookies who couldn't catch a cold, let alone a criminal. So far this case would appear to confirm and solidify that reputation.

OK, I guess I'm still a little grumpy, but I'm also a little more optimistic than yesterday. As much as the borough and AST officials might want to sweep this issue under the rug in hopes it will just go away, some of the editorial letters responding to the original news article are starting to show up in the paper. There were three such letters in today's edition, titled "Wrongful Death", "Disappointed" and "Don't Shoot Horses". I know there are more letters to come, as my own has not yet been published.

It's a shame that one must exert an incredible amount of public pressure to motivate our animal control and law enforcement officers to do the jobs for which they were hired, but when you live in Two Rivers that is pretty much the way it is.

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