Steamboat dog shooting case returns to court

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Del Herman

— A jury is hearing testimony this week to decide whether Del Herman should pay for shooting and killing the Arnone family’s dog, Duke.

Grant Bursek, an attorney with Oliphant & Associates, filed the civil lawsuit in August on behalf of Patrick Arnone, his wife, Leah, and their daughter Tess.

The five-day trial started Monday after a settlement could not be reached between the two parties. The jury is not being asked to decide whether Herman shot the dog, to which he pleaded no contest in May 2011 as part of a criminal case. Instead, the jury will be deciding whether the Arnone family is owed damages and, if so, how much.

The lawsuit alleges Herman committed civil theft, conspiracy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Arnone family. The lawsuit only states the amount of damages being sought is at least $15,000.

The criminal case related to the shooting of the Arnone family’s dog wrapped up in June 2011.

Herman initially denied to police that he had shot the dog in March 2011 in the Indian Trails neighborhood, but he was arrested after a witness linked him to the crime. Herman was taken to jail and later confessed. The .22-caliber gun used in the shooting was found underneath insulation in the attic of Herman’s shop building.

Herman pleaded no contest to aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class 6 felony, and reckless endangerment, a Class 3 misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay $3,400 in restitution to the Arnone family and to perform 100 hours of community service.

The plaintiffs Tuesday were presenting their evidence to the jury, which included testimony from Steamboat Springs Police Department Detective Dave Kleiber. He told the jury that Herman initially denied shooting the dog after being arrested.

“He just continued saying that he didn’t shoot the dog, but he was going to take responsibility for it,” Kleiber said.

Rance Hampton, an associate veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic, testified about the medical treatment the dog received and how the Arnone family was upset and highly emotional after they learned the dog was shot. Despite treatment and surgery, the dog had to be euthanized.

“Everyone in the room was crying,” Hampton said.

The jury also heard from Wendy Baumann, a counselor who treated Leah Arnone before and after the dog was shot. Baumann said that after the dog was shot, Arnone was angry and distraught about the death. At a session three weeks after the dog’s death, Baumann said Arnone was “all over the place emotionally,” depressed and felt like she had let Duke down.

The testimony from Baumann was controversial and prompted Herman’s attorney Reed Morris, of The Law Office of Ralph A. Cantafio, to request a mistrial. Morris said Baumann gave expert opinions, which should not have been allowed.

“There is nothing the court can do to unring this bell,” Morris said.

Fourteenth Judicial District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara denied the request for a mistrial. He said that Morris raised legitimate concerns but that he thought they could be remedied.

“There is a lot of time, money and energy that has been put into this case to bring it to trial,” O’Hara said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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