Verdict questioned in sheep-dog case
September 8, 2009
Investigators have not identified a dog that attacked a person last year on a trail near The Canyons, an attorney for a sheep rancher in the Snyderville Basin claims.
Still, Basin resident Stephen A. Osguthorpe, 61, was found guilty Aug. 21 on two counts of allowing sheep dogs he was responsible for to injure a woman and dog in separate attacks in September 2008. Osguthorpe is well known for campaigning in 2004 for a seat on the Summit County Commission.
His attorney said Osguthorpe plans to appeal the August convictions.
On Sept. 14, 2008, Rick Whitty, who was bicycling with his unleashed dog, claimed his pet was attacked by a sheep dog. Naomi Doyle was bicycling near The Canyons on Sept. 19, 2008, when a sheep dog bit her buttocks, prosecutors say.
"The Osguthorpes don’t own any dogs," Osguthorpe attorney David Scofield said in a telephone interview. "They hire professional sheep herders who own highly trained sheep dogs."
Osguthorpe was away from Summit County during both attacks last year, Scofield said.
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Scofield criticized Summit County Animal Control officers who claimed Osguthorpe admitted the dogs involved in the attacks were his.
"Can you explain to me how a man who is in Delta, Utah, who hasn’t witnessed the dog attack, who hasn’t seen the dog, could possibly admit that it was his dog that was involved in the attack?" Scofield added. "Their assumption is so strong that it’s Steve Osguthorpe, that they’re in there testifying that he confessed that it’s his dog. It’s a joke."
But sheep were present during both attacks, Summit County prosecutor Helen Strachan said.
Osguthorpe has 30 days to appeal the Summit County Justice Court decision to 3rd District Court. No notice of appeal had been filed in Justice Court on Tuesday.
"My client is innocent of all charges," Scofield said.
Stray dogs likely attacked Whitty and Doyle, he added.
"There is a dog roaming the area, and animal control never picked it up. And it’s not Steve Osguthorpe’s," Scofield said. "If you’re a rancher in Summit County, look out. If a stray dog bites somebody near your ranch, you’re going to be charged."
An ordinance in Summit County makes allowing a dog to attack a misdemeanor.
But Osguthorpe’s charges were reduced to infractions when prosecutors realized they wouldn’t win a jury trial, Scofield said.
"This case was originally charged as a class B misdemeanor and I demanded a jury because I thought there was no way a jury was going to say, when they haven’t even found the dog, that he is guilty," Scofield said. "So they bumped it down to an infraction so I wouldn’t have a right to a jury. You’re not entitled to a jury trial on an infraction because there is no possibility of jail time."
Scofield said he will request a jury trial in district court.
"Why didn’t the animal control officers go and catch the dog?" Scofield said. "At the least, if they thought it was one of these sheep dogs, why didn’t they go and collect all of these sheep dogs and bring the victims in to identify the dog, if one of the sheep dogs actually bit these people."
There are a lot of stray dogs in that area, Scofield said about a trail system at The Canyons.
"It’s clear that their knee-jerk response is that the Osguthorpe ranch is the one that’s near here. Osguthorpe runs sheep, so it must be their dogs," Scofield said.
Osguthorpe was ordered to pay fines and assessments totaling $1,500 when he was convicted in August. If he completes 12 months of probation with no animal-control violations, $900 of the fine will be suspended. Osguthorpe was acquitted on charges that he hadn’t licensed a dog and failed to vaccinate an animal.