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Town board member in Wisconsin charged with killing neighbor's dog

Sam, an 8-year-old black Labrador, was shot June 23 in the town of Kinnickinnic. Submitted photo1 / 2
David J. Nelson2 / 2

RIVER FALLS, Wis. — A town supervisor, allegedly roiled by attacks on his livestock, told authorities a neighbor's dog had wandered onto his rural River Falls property, was aggressive toward his calves and jumped on his son before he shot the animal to death.

"I will shoot any dog that comes on my property," town of Kinnickinnic Supervisor David J. Nelson told authorities after the June 23 incident, according to a criminal complaint. "You can put that in your report."

But St. Croix County sheriff's deputies arrested Nelson after learning the dog, a black Labrador, was walking away from the man before he fired the final, fatal shot.

Prosecutors on Wednesday, July 19, charged Nelson, 54, with one count of intentionally killing a dog, a misdemeanor. Nelson pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance held the same day.

Nelson referred to his town board position while reporting the incident to authorities and said he also received the support of the town chairman.

Contacted Monday, July 24, town Chairman Jerry Olson said that while Nelson had relayed his version of events, he's not wading into what he considers a "private matter" and sees no reason for the board to get involved.

The shooting death left the dog's owner, Mike Reihl, stunned. He, his parents and girlfriend Kayla White-Kusilek said they never knew 8-year-old "Sam" to be anything other than a friendly, gentle dog.

"A mellow dog — calm as can be," the town of Kinnickinnic resident said last week.

Reihl received Sam as a Christmas gift in 2009 while he was still in college and raised him since he was a puppy. Getting word that the dog had been shot to death was "like a nightmare," Reihl said.

A RiverTown Multimedia call to Nelson's home was answered by his wife, Dorothy Nelson. She said the family could not comment on the case while it's in litigation.

The incident unfolded while White-Kusilek was spending the day at Reihl's house. She said she was in the garage when Sam apparently opened a door and wandered off.

She said Sam was likely missing for about 20 minutes before she realized he was gone. White-Kusilek said that set off an urgent attempt to find the dog. She said she got in her car and drove the area calling for Sam.

She was driving the area when she encountered a deputy in the neighborhood. The deputy was responding to Nelson's report that he'd shot a stray dog. White-Kusilek followed the deputy's squad onto Nelson's County Road SS property, where the dog's remains were found about 100 feet east of the house, according to the complaint.

"I felt like it was my fault," White-Kusilek said of Sam getting free.

She said she "just freaked out" after seeing the dog laying on the ground.

According to the complaint, Nelson called to report he shot the dog after it cornered his 12-year-old son and became aggressive toward the calves he had tied up in his yard.

"I knew Sam wouldn't do that," White-Kusilek said last week.

She doubts Nelson's claims about the dog's behavior and fears his interpretation of the law could lead to another incident like the one involving Sam.

Nelson allegedly told the deputy he was "very aware of his rights to shoot a dog" on his property that had come after his family or farm animals. He also sought to keep his name anonymous in the report, the deputy stated.

"He didn't want the owner to know his personal information or that he shot the dog," according to the complaint. "David was told that in an incident like this, he wouldn't be allowed to remain anonymous."

Deputies checked on Nelson's son, who showed what the complaint describes as a "very small scratch" to his knee. The complaint states the boy reported the dog did not bite him "and he was not able to describe any other aggressive or dangerous behavior."

Nelson, who told deputies he suspected dogs had killed three of his calves in the spring, said he loaded three slugs into a 12-gauge shotgun after his son alerted him he'd been backed against a wall by the dog. The Nelsons said they didn't know Sam but suspected seeing the dog on the property before, the complaint states.

Nelson shot at the dog and it ran down the driveway, according to the complaint. He chased after it and shot it again, the charging document states. Nelson allegedly fired a third shot "to finish him off," he allegedly told deputies.

The complaint states the deputy asked Nelson, "If the threat of the dog was leaving, why not render aid," adding that a dog could be saved after a shot to its hind quarters.

"David told us 'he needed to finish the dog off,'" the complaint states.

Nelson returns to court Sept. 5.

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