KOSCIUSKO — Protesters who want Jerry Clase removed from his position as county animal control officer told Kosciusko commissioners Tuesday, July 23, at the commissioners meeting that the protests will not stop.
The commissioners unanimously agreed on Tuesday to suspend Clase for five days without pay for his handling of a case involving a dog in Etna Green in June.
Case had been alerted to a sick dog by a landlord. Clase decided to shoot the dog to put it out of its misery and then disposed of the body without contacting the owner.
The county commissioners reviewed the case earlier this month in an executive session.
On Tuesday, they accepted a recommendation from County Attorney Chad Miner.
Miner’s report included background information of the incident and stated that an inquiry by the Indiana State Police did not find any criminal conduct on the part of Clase.
Miner said that based upon “the relevant provisions” from the personnel policy handbook and after conferring with Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates, the county’s human resources consultant, an appropriate discipline range would be between a written reprimand and up to a five-day unpaid suspension.
Miner stated that in light of the procedures set forth in the personnel policy, any disciplinary action beyond a five-day suspension without pay could result in a wrongful discharge action against the county.
“The main thing I struggle with is that he did not attempt to contact the owner of the dog,” said Commissioner President Cary Groninger.
“He’s in a job we hired him to do,” said Commissioner Bob Conley. “That dog was ill.”
More than 60 protesters calling for Clase’s removal from his position gathered in front of the county courthouse prior to the commissioners meeting.
Phaedra Chaney, who organized the rally, learned about the five-day suspension while she and others were still gathered outside the courthouse. She said they found out about it through Facebook.
Chaney said the ruling was insufficient. “That was just a token to shut us up,” Chaney stated.
She said they plan to seek legal recourse in hopes of having Clase removed from his position.
After choosing to suspend Clase, the commissioners then moved to further revise the county’s animal control ordinance.
Miner presented an updated animal control policy regarding abandoned, neglected or injured animals. The commissioners had recently approved a policy pertaining to the course of action in relation to domestic animals that appear to be abandoned or neglected at their July 9 meeting; however, according to Groninger, it was discovered that some state statutes have changed since July 1.
The purpose of the policy, according to Section 1, is to provide guidance regarding animal control in Kosciusko County and to ensure the humane treatment of animals and the courteous treatment of their owners.
Commissioner Vice-President Brad Jackson questioned the last line in Section 2 regarding abandoned or neglected domestic animals, which stated that “if the animal is suffering from illness or injury, proceed in accordance with Section 3.”
After some discussion, this was changed to read “if the animal is suffering from illness or injury then it should be taken to one of the listed veterinarians.”
Although Clase himself did not speak at the meeting, several protesters did.
Columbia City Resident Kelly Bolenbaugh presented the commissioners and Miner with informational packets related to state and federal laws.
Bolenbaugh stated that Sherry Koser did not get legal due process.
“The report was full of lies about the dog,” said Bolenbaugh. “This is not going to go away. It’s only going to build. It’s only going to grow.”
Bolenbaugh said Koser’s dog, Daisy, had a mammary gland tumor, which she described as very common in dogs.
“It’s not painful, it’s fatty tissue,” Bolenbaugh stated.
Bolenbaugh said an online petition calling for Clase to be removed as county animal control officer reached 1,500 signatures as of this morning and that there are over 200 people in their group.
“Please listen to them. Give them a chance to learn to trust you again,” said Bolenbaugh. “So far you’ve let them down every step of the way.”
Conley said he and his family have had animals and that if they had never let one of their animals get in the condition that Koser’s dog was, “anybody who came along and had compassion to deal with that animal, we would have patted them on the back.”
Another protester, Angie Wright, addressed the commissioners and Miner, saying, “I’ve seen a lot of abuse going on in this county. I’m embarrassed by you commissioners for letting this go on and I’m embarrassed by you for being a county attorney and letting it go on and saying that laws aren’t being broken because they are.”
Miner again said it did not appear that any laws had been broken.
“Well, you look into it cause you’re not looking in the right place,” Wright snapped.
“I think there’s some confusion going on,” said Jackson. “We’re not the legislative body. I think you’re confused on our role here. That’s beyond our scope of authority.”
Clase’s suspension begins Wednesday, July 24.
- The next regular meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6.