By T.J. Pyette
A Havre couple is contesting vicious dog charges filed against them after a Havre police officer shot their dogs to death near his home.
Mark and Angie Campanella have pleaded not guilty to the two charges and are scheduled for trial Dec. 17 in Hill County Justice Court.
A Hill County Sheriff's Office report says the sheriff's office received a call from Havre police Capt. Mike Barthel at 3:44 p.m. on June 18 in which he said he had shot two dogs that had killed his daughters' rabbit and trapped one of his daughters in the Barthels' dog pen.
In a deposition with the Campanellas' defense attorney, Barthel said he had gotten home from work about 3:30 p.m. and was changing out of his uniform when he heard his daughter screaming that there were two large dogs in the yard.
Barthel went outside and saw two German shepherds. The larger dog, a male, was in the swimming pool and the smaller dog, a female, was approaching his daughter, who was chasing the family's Pomeranian. The tiny dog was barking at the female.
As he went outside, Barthel told the attorney, he noticed the remains of their pet rabbit in the yard and he thought that the female was going to attack the Pomeranian and his daughter.
Then, Barthel's daughter caught the Pomeranian and went into their dog kennel for protection, shutting the gate behind her.
After his daughter got in the dog pen he became concerned about how she was going to get out of the kennel and safely inside the house, he said.
Barthel went into the house and got a can of police department-issued Oleoresin Capsicum spray, returned to the female dog, which had returned to the remains of the rabbit near the garage.
Barthel said he approached the dog and sprayed it with the OC spray, but it wouldn't leave the remains.
He then pulled the male dog out of the pool and "gave him a dose of the OC," the deposition says.
Both dogs retreated to the rabbit remains and didn't leave, he said.
"When they don't leave, it's time for fear for my child, she's now out of the kennel and making a dash for the house."
In a written statement, Barthel's daughter said she was already in the house when she saw her dad "shooing and spraying the dogs." She added that she couldn't see much because a fence was in the way.
After making sure that his daughter was safe in the house, Barthel said in the deposition, he went downstairs and grabbed a .22-caliber rifle and returned outside, where both dogs were eating the rabbit remains.
Barthel said he was concerned because the dogs would not leave and his wife and other children would be coming home in about an hour.
Barthel said he shot the female once and she ran off. Upon hearing the shot, the male also ran off, so Barthel went through the garage and shot the male as it headed west.
"I believe it was a head shot, because he goes right down," Barthel said.
Barthel went back through the garage to look for the female, and said she was coming through the yard toward him.
"I'm backing up, firing in my garage and she's coming through the door," he said. "I emptied my gun, I believe it was maybe seven, eight shots."
Barthel said he then went back into the house, attempting to comfort his daughter, who was crying and hysterical, but said he noticed through the window that the male was breathing slowly.
"I had to put it out of its misery," said Barthel. He reloaded his rifle and went back outside.
"I shot it once more in the head, and until it was no longer breathing."
The next day, sheriff's deputies were instructed by Hill County Attorney David Rice to issue citations to the owners of the dogs. The following day, the Campanellas were charged with two counts of dog at large and two counts of vicious dogs. They have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
All of the charges are misdemeanors. The penalty can range from fines of $5 to $500.
Barthel declined to comment on the incident because the criminal case is pending.
The Campanellas also declined to comment on the advice of their defense attorney, Jeremy Yellin.
"The facts of this case will make themselves known at the trial," Yellin said Thursday.