Authorities stay silent on Bruzzo

Last October, I wrote about Bruzzo, a Rhodesian Ridgeback owned by Nick and Amy Pellegrin of Des Moines, Iowa. While the Pellegrins were vacationing on Wisconsin’s Madeline Island in July, Bruzzo ran out of their cottage on the final day of their stay, ran into the woods, and never returned. The Pellegrins extended their stay to look for Bruzzo, but eventually had to return to Des Moines. Nick made the 9-hour journey back to Madeline Island several times throughout the summer to continue the search. Many concerned island residents joined in.

One person Nick spoke to was Gene Nelson, a lifelong island resident who lived across the road from where the Pellegrins had been staying. Nelson claimed to have not seen Bruzzo, but said he would “keep an eye out.” Several months later, however, people heard Nelson talking about the incident around the island. When confronted about it by a reporter, Nelson admitted that Bruzzo had been shot when the dog entered Nelson’s yard and started killing Nelson’s chickens (Nelson remained coy about whether he or somebody else had pulled the trigger). Nelson presented no evidence to support his story, and he refused to return Bruzzo’s body to the Pellegrins.

When I spoke with Nelson in October, he said that he hadn’t told the truth initially because he had been criticized for shooting a dog in the past, and he didn’t want to be criticized again. When I pointed out that he could have saved everyone a lot of time and money by simply speaking up, Nelson said, “Do you think irresponsible dog owners like that deserve [the truth]? … They would have saved a lot of trouble if they would have kept a leash on their dog.”

When the Pellegrins filed a formal complaint against Nelson with the La Pointe Police Department (La Pointe is the one town on the mostly rural island), the police wrote up a report on the incident and forwarded it to the Ashland County district attorney’s office for review. It has languished there ever since. Nobody knows when, or if, charges will be filed. When I spoke with Amy Pellegrin on Jan. 23, she told me that she called the DA’s office once a week to inquire about the status of the case, but nobody ever told her anything. My own calls to the DA were not returned.

If Bruzzo really was killing chickens, Gene Nelson would have been within his rights to shoot him. Wisconsin law states: “A person may intentionally kill a dog if a domestic animal that is owned or in the custody of the person is threatened with serious bodily harm by the dog and the dog is on property owned or controlled by the person and (1) other restraining actions were tried and failed; or (2) immediate action is necessary.” Further, the Pellegrins would have been required to compensate Nelson for his loss.

The problem is that Nelson never provided proof of dead chickens, to the police or anyone else. Absent that justification, the killing of Bruzzo would be illegal. Wisconsin law states that anyone who kills another’s dog “is liable to the owner of the dog for double damages resulting from the killing” and “may be subject to prosecution, depending on the circumstances of the case.”

Amy told me that when she and Nick contacted the La Pointe police to make their complaint, Chief William Defoe sought to dissuade them. “The first conversation we had was essentially within 24 hours of making the report,” she said. “There had been no investigation. We hadn’t submitted photos or any of the statements that were made to us, anything. And we were told, up front, ‘You know, I just don’t think the island’s really interested in pursuing this. I don’t think the community would be interested in it, and we just think you should [pursue] some civil options.’”

It seems odd that a police department would decide whether to investigate something based on what the community is “interested in,” rather than whether or not laws were broken. When I contacted Chief Defoe to get a response to this and other questions, he declined to answer my queries, emailing me: “All questions regarding this case are to be referred to the Ashland County District Attorney’s office. We cannot make any comments regarding any case that is in their hands.”

The Pellegrins, who are both attorneys, feel that the La Pointe police accepted Nelson’s chicken-killing explanation at face value and did not investigate the case seriously. “I’m not going to pretend to know the criminal system as well as I do the civil, but I certainly understand general investigative standards,” Amy told me. “You know, I was told initially, ‘Well, we can’t investigate the chicken defense.’ Why? Why can’t you investigate it? … There was a crime that occurred, and we expect there to be a full investigation … I know that witnesses haven’t been interviewed, [because I wasn’t] interviewed … [The DA does] have the power to require further investigation, and I’ve asked that before, and I’ll keep asking for it, if that’s what they need. I think that the statements that Gene made to us directly [admitting that Bruzzo was killed on his property] are sufficient to charge him. I don’t know that they need more evidence, but if they believe they do, it is within their power. But here we are.”

Not all Wisconsin law enforcement agencies are so lackadaisical about dog-killing. A recent case in Waupaca County bears some similarities to the Bruzzo case. In early January, Justin Beese let his two dogs out to run around on his rural 22-acre homestead near Manawa. When one of them, a Great Dane named Gypsy, failed to return, Beese began what turned into a four-day search. On the fourth day, as reported by Fox 11 News in Green Bay, “Beese came across paw prints and a trail of blood … At the end of the blood trail, he found what appeared to be four-wheeler tracks. ‘Then I really knew for sure that somebody had shot my dog and came and picked her up out of the woods,’ said Beese.” He suspected his neighbor, a man named Jeff Buttles.

Beese reported his findings to the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department, who immediately investigated. Under questioning, Jeff Buttles admitted to shooting Gypsy and dumping the body in a river. Investigators arrested Buttles for mistreatment of animals and lodged him in the county jail.
In Gypsy’s case, the police investigated the complaint immediately, sent their report to the DA, and made an arrest within days. In Bruzzo’s case, a cursory investigation resulted in almost half a year of silence. The difference in law enforcement responses is striking.

Kayak rack rentals

Next summer, the city of Duluth will unveil a new kayak rack rental program at three city parks: Brighton Beach, Park Point, and Chambers Grove. The program will allow people to store their personal kayaks and canoes on city racks for a fee, which will save them having to transport the watercraft back and forth from home. “It can also increase water access usage by reducing barriers to those who might not have the means to transport their watercraft back and forth,” Assistant Parks Manager Lisa Luokkala told the Parks Commission on Jan. 9. “Many other communities throughout Minnesota have implemented these rack service rentals successfully.”

The racks will be built using volunteer labor provided by members of local Ironworkers Union 512. Each rack will have six slots, which will cost $100 per season for residents and $175 for non-residents. Like public bike racks, the kayak racks will be a use-at-your-own-risk amenity. Renters will be required to supply their own locks. Registration for the racks opens on April 1.

Across the bay, the city of Superior instituted a similar program last year, installing kayak racks at Barker’s Island, Billings Park, and Woodstock Bay Landing. Superior residents can apply for rack slots beginning Feb. 1, and non-residents can apply beginning April 1. The cost is $100 for residents and $200 for non-residents.

A St. Luke’s plot?

On Jan. 8, 2019, city staff and representatives for St. Luke’s Hospital presented the Planning Commission with a proposal to expand St. Luke’s facilities. This is one element of a major expansion that is ongoing in the city’s Medical District, at both the St. Luke’s and Essentia campuses.

Under the plan, St. Luke’s emergency room will triple in size and move from its current location in the main hospital on First Street to Building A on Second Street. A new parking structure containing an ambulance garage and ER drop-off area will be built next to Building A. A new helicopter landing pad will be located atop the parking structure, replacing the current helipad on First Street. This configuration will reduce the amount of time it takes to get a patient from the helicopter to the ER. It will also move the helipad a block closer to an adjacent residential neighborhood.

The four citizens who signed up to speak on the matter weren’t adamantly opposed to the project, but they expressed concerns about noise and quality-of-life issues that might arise from having a helipad so close to their homes. In addition, some speakers said that they had not received notice of the project until the last minute. Others said they had received no notice at all.

Commission President Michael Schraepfer, who owns a rental property in the area, amplified these concerns during the commissioners’ discussion. “I’ve watched this neighborhood for many years, and essentially [this area] was housing eight years ago. I remember a row house building that used to be there. All three of those city blocks have systematically been acquired by the hospital as it’s expanded … In this current iteration, it’s moving [the helicopter] to the edge of … the residential [neighborhood] … It’s three times [as many] homes being affected by a helicopter [as before], and that won’t change, unless, in the future, those homes across the street are acquired [as] the hospital continues to expand.”

Schraepfer also objected to the short notice given to property owners. “I got my letter Friday, as the property owner. I didn’t have a chance to let [my] tenants know … because I had [only] a day and a half, two days, to do something.”

In the end, commissioners voted 7-2 to allow St. Luke’s to proceed with their plan, with Schraepfer and Commissioner Janet Kennedy voting in the negative. The issue must have continued to bother Mr. Schraepfer, though, because he returned to it again near the end of the meeting.

“How is it smart practice for us to move forward with things when residents don’t have [adequate notice]?” Schraepfer asked. “If that happens again, we should just table it … I’m going to do that with everything going forward. If we find anybody that says they didn’t get notification, we should table that, and I think that’s something I would take a stand on, because it’s fair.”

Commissioner Tim Meyer pressed his button. “I have a question. Do we have an idea of what St. Luke’s wants to do north of Second Street, between Second and Third, long-term? Because I think that’s a factor … You know, if they are going to acquire more property and have other…”

Commissioner Schraepfer broke in. “They’re gonna devalue it first with a helicopter! They’re gonna devalue it first with a helicopter, then they’ll acquire it.”

This statement was met with a bit of laughter in the room, but President Schraepfer wasn’t smiling. Was he onto something?