Officer-involved dog shooting, family patterns; Best Friends steps in for Loki

Loki in the veterinary clinic, after shots were fired at him by a police officer. St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Sherrill Brinkerhoff, St. George News

ST. GEORGE— A police shooting of a dog named Loki last Sunday remains under investigation by both the St. George Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The St. George Animal Shelter and family have addressed placement of excess dogs that had been kept in addition to Loki at the owners’ home. In addition, Best Friends Animal Society has stepped in to accept Loki and tend to his medical needs and care.

The history of the family involved, their dogs and neighbors reveals a pattern of similar incidents, including dogs biting people, dogs allowed to roam free of constraint and an excessive number of dogs maintained at their residences. While not all neighbors agree, neighbor concerns and complaints over the family’s dogs, both at this residence and previous ones is not new.

Sherrill Brinkerhoff with Dexter, owned by her son Kolten Winder and Chelsea Chiacchiera, who moved in with Brinkerhoff Aug. 31, 2013, St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2013 | Photo taken by Sarah Isaacson, St. George News
Sherrill Brinkerhoff with Dexter, owned by her son Kolten Winder and Chelsea Chiacchiera, who moved in with Brinkerhoff Aug. 31, 2013, St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2013 | Photo taken by Sarah Isaacson, St. George News

A St. George Police officer responded to the neighborhood of 1500 West and 1400 North last Sunday, when dogs were reported running loose and causing concern to neighbors. The officer observed four dogs and shot at one of them three times when the dog aggressively charged him, according to police statements.

Resident Sherrill Brinkerhoff, who said she owns Loki, has lived at 1563 West 1400 North in the neighborhood for 13 years.  It is a a quaint, but by no means quiet neighborhood, in St. George. She is not the only dog owner there. Three “Beware of Dog” signs can be seen hanging on fences around yards throughout the neighborhood and dogs can be heard barking from inside neighboring homes and backyards. Brinkerhoff’s residence is home to extended family from time to time as well as many dogs.

A U-haul trailer was still attached to a truck parked in front of Brinkerhoff’s house, Wednesday, evidencing the move her son Kolten Winder had just made to come live with her. Winder had arrived the  day before with his fiancé Chelsea Chiacchiera, two children and a dog, Dexter.

Dogs over limit, neighbor concerns

The City of St. George has a two-dog limit on residences and includes provision for dog owners to apply for a kennel license if they wish to maintain more than two dogs at a given residence.

This family of dog owners tends to watch each other’s dogs and considers them all one in the family, Chiacchiera said, accounting for some confusion in who owns what dog. As of Sunday, there were eight dogs at the house.

Following is a breakdown of the dogs, their owners, and current placement:

  • Brinkerhoff had five dogs of her own: Loki, Ellie, Sassy, Jesse, and Reggie
    • Loki is now in the care of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab; Ellie and Sassy were taken in by another family member of Brinkerhoff to live elsewhere; Jessie and Reggie remain with Brinkerhoff and were never impounded
  • Brinkerhoff was dog sitting a dog for her son who recently left for a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Chloe
    • Chloe has been taken in by another family member to be taken care of until Brinkerhoff’s son returns from his LDS mission
  • Brinkerhoff was dog sitting another dog for a son’s girlfriend: Franky
    • Franky was impounded and remains at the shelter, waiting for Brinkerhoff’s son’s girlfriend to come pick him up
  • Winder and Chiacchiera just moved in Saturday with their dog: Dexter
    • Dexter remains at the Brinkerhoff home with Winder and Chiacchiera, being allowed to stay with them there temporarily while they look for their own separate home

Ultimately, it was Chiacchiera who said she was cited for failure to control a vicious animal – Loki, for whom Brinkerhoff claimed ownership.

None of the dogs are licensed with the City of St. George.

History and issues

This is not a new or isolated incident with this family. City Attorney Shawn Guzman said that citations have previously been issued for too many dogs in that home. According to a statement issued earlier this week, neighbors told police that the dogs have acted aggressively towards them in the past.

Records kept by the City of St. George include multiple criminal citations against members of this family.

  • Between 1999 and 2006, Brinkerhoff, then named Winder, was cited five times for animal-at-large / attack / cruelty, and four times for two license violations each, at various other addresses.
  • In 2007, Chiacchiera was cited at a different address when Angela Billmire was bitten by Chiacchier’s pit bull on the upper left leg, on the back side by her butt. According to the incident report, “The owner of the dog Chelsea stated the dog was getting aggressive and had bitten two other people the previous week. She turned the dog over to animal control.”
  • In June 2012, Brinkerhoff’s dog, Sebastian (identified as Sabastain in the police report), bit neighbor Jim Brey on the back of his calf one night while Brey was on the sidewalk in front of her home. The dog was quarantined because animal control found Brinkerhoff’s yard not secure enough to ensure home quarantine. Winder and  his family told St. George News about Sebastian. They said he was vicious and they had to put him down.
  • In October 2012, neighbors Shanna and Kyle Crosby complained about the dogs at the current Brinkerhoff home. According to the incident report, the Crosbys said: “As people started walking close to the residence the dogs would start barking and run out into the street after the people.” On investigation, officers identified one each of the following breeds at the home: sheltie, hound mix, black lab, German short hair mix, little mix-breed, and an extremely large pit bull / mastiff mix. There were also two puppies in the residence.

The family, their dogs and the Sunday incident

A door was accidentally left open due to the move, Chiacchiera said. She said she had been sleeping and Loki and Dexter let themselves out and began wandering the yard and the street area in front of the home. St. George Police said there were four dogs loose when they arrived.

“I woke up to three gun shots,” Chiacchiera said, consistent with the police statement that three shots were fired when the dog charged the officer.

“I don’t think the cop should have shot the dog,” neighbor Irma Gonzalez said. “What I saw was the cop near the truck and the dog was far away. Three shots is excessive.”

“I went into our kitchen, and there was blood everywhere,” Chiacchiera said. She walked into Brinkerhoff’s bedroom and found Loki bleeding and immediately rushed him to a veterinary clinic; the City of St. George paid the bill, she said.

Neighbor Irma Gonzalez said the dogs have never been aggressive with her or her own dogs. She said she questions why police responded to an animal control issue and fears how this was handled and is keeping a watchful eye on her own pets.

The officer used a hand gun in self defense, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said; “the officer was protecting himself at that point, the outcome was what it was, he really was just protecting himself.”

Children of Kolten Winder and Chelsea Chiacchiera, with Sherrill Brinkerhoff's dog, St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2013 | Photo taken by Sarah Isaacson, St. George News
Children of Kolten Winder and Chelsea Chiacchiera, with Sherrill Brinkerhoff’s dog, St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2013 | Photo taken by Sarah Isaacson, St. George News

Chiacchiera did not witness the shooting and has only heard secondhand stories from neighbors. But she said one story she was told was that an elderly couple was taking a walk Sunday morning, when they saw her dogs they crossed the street as a precaution and called the police because the dogs seemed unattended and are widely known as an aggressive breed.

Loki, the dog involved in the current shooting incident, is a 15-pound, medium-size blue heeler/pit bull mix, a “friendly and curious dog,” Chiacchiera said, as the family gathered around three of their other dogs Wednesday. See Ed. note.

While his daughter, Jasmine, kissed their pit bull Dexter, egging him on for a friendly wrestling match in the front yard on Wednesday, Winder watched. He wouldn’t have vicious animals around his 9-month-old baby and his 5-year-old daughter, he said, and related the story of Sebastian who the family previously owned and had to put down because he was vicious.

Many of the dogs in the family are or have been of  the pit bull breed. Pit bull is not actually a breed but a stereotype, Best Friends Director of Animal Care Judah Battista said during a reunion of adoptive owners of “the Vicktory Dogs” – dogs rescued from the Michael Vick dog fighting operation. What is referred to as a pit bull is made up of a variety of breeds, Battista said: Stratfordshire terriers, American bulldogs, and others. The stereotype comes from dogs that have been bred to be used as a weapon, he said. But, many of the breed’s owners, such as those who adopted the Victory Dogs, credit their bad reputation to poor upbringing, hostile environment, and argue the breed has received a bad rap and are not by nature vicious dogs.

Current status

On Wednesday, Chiacchiera said that Loki was in critical condition and still needed surgery for a wounded front right paw and rear left paw. He was hit by three bullets, one of which grazed his lip after going through his nose, she said. The family needed to come up with $2,000 for the dog or decide to have him euthanized (no requirement to euthanize the dog has been imposed by authorities) and the family was seeking donations to cover the surgery.

St. George Animal Shelter’s manager, St. George Police Sgt. Ivor Fuller, said Loki was not in critical condition and had not been sedated. He had been given pain pills to keep him comfortable.

“The injuries were to his legs,” Fuller said, “he had casts on and was able to move around and did not act like he was in any pain at all.”

Loki has since been taken into the care of Best Friends Animal Society.

“The owners released the animal to us, and we released the animal to Best Friends, who now has custody of Loki and is taking care of all his medical needs and they will place him in their facility,” Fuller said.

Today, Loki is in Las Vegas in surgery, Best Friends Media Representative Barbara Williamson said.

“We did accept the dog,” Williamson said, “and as part of the dog being accepted to Best Friends we agreed that he will not be adopted into St George or Washington County.”

She said such stipulations are not unusual.

Brinkerhoff has yet to be charged with anything. Chiaccheria has been charged with failure to control a vicious animal, dog at large and failure to license.

Ed. note: For point of reference, Best Friends Animal Society provided this link for dogs classified at 0-25 pounds.  See here.   Verification of weight of Loki pending.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and Assistant Editor Mori Kessler contributed to this article.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

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Email: sisaacson@stgnews.com

Twitter: @sarahisaacson1

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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17 Comments

  • Ashley September 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this very detailed article!!! It’s nice to know this poor boy has been taken in by Best Friends, and the other dogs who were removed have been taken by friends and family and not simply left at the shelter.

    That being said, it utterly breaks my heart to hear that people think the only solution to a “vicious” dog is euthanasia. My great dane/mastiff mix could have suffered that same fate, as he was not a nice dog at first. Raised by a homeless man in Las Vegas for the first year of his life, he was terrified of men and life in general. At the very sight of a hand gun, he still cowers in fear. His favorite chew toy is an empty water bottle.

    Had it not been for the Nevada SPCA No-Kill Animal Shelter (and more specifically Kathleen Jennings), I would have never had this wonderful addition to my life. After almost a year full of love and patience from our family, he has gone from a scared and aggressive, very intimidating dog to the sweetest, most loving gentle giant there is. He still has a lot to learn about manners, and he still makes some people nervous because of his shear size, but he has made tremendous progress in a relatively short amount of time.

    My point is, there is no “vicious” dog. There are only scared dogs, confused dogs, dogs with no direction in which to put their energy. If everyone would take the time to learn about their dog, their breed tendencies, their history, their very unique and individual personality, incidents like this would be almost nonexistent.

    I hope everyone in this community learns a lot from this unfortunate experience.

  • Capital g September 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    There are no vicious dogs!? Okay the dogs that tore an infant apart, I guess those dogs were terrified of the infant. An animal is a sentient, it should be cared for, but does not outweigh the life an safety of an individual. I take it no one that wrote this article or this comment has ever been attacked by a dog before. When a human maims another human it’s called mayhem and there is a penalty for that. The same goes here especially in a split second decision. Quit thinking that the family and the dog are the victims. The family obviously broke a law and can’t control it’s animals and the animals were violent and known to be violent. If you think you can do better go out, get a job where you respond to dangerous calls, and “make the right decision” while preserving your life.
    I speak from experience because when I was four years olds I was attacked by a pitbull and was very lucky I didn’t lose my left eye. Sit behind your desk and tell me that I was the antagonizer.

    • Ashley September 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      There are dogs who are poorly trained, nervous or scared, or otherwise unhealthy. No dog is born vicious nor is any dog beyond rehabilitation. I’m terribly sorry to hear you were attacked, but I do not blame the dog. I place complete blame on the owner for not having control of their animal. Dogs are just that, animals. People should not have them as pets unless they properly train them. That was my point.

  • againstdumbowners September 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Cant help but notice that in all of these photos, not one dog has id tags or is even wearing a collar!!! Its ridiculous! Especially if the dogs have a history of getting loose. My personal feeling, anyone who doesn’t take the time to id their dogs, doesn’t really care much about their whereabouts.

  • Craig September 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    This family puts the fun in Dysfunctional.

  • Steve September 6, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Very well said Ashley! I couldn’t agree more. What Ashley meant was that dogs are not born vicious. When have you ever seen a vicious puppy? Some dogs are not properly trained, left in the backyard and or tied up to a tree and are never socialized in society. They develop those vicious tendencies because of their so called owners. Like Ashley, I have raised several big breed dogs, specifically rottweillers, and they were the sweetest dogs ever. They were taught rules, boundaries, and limitations. Dogs that are properly socialized are not only safer, but happier as well. It drives me crazy when people judge the dog, rather than the owner.

  • Mike September 6, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    This was an ongoing problem. Animal control could have fixed this long ago. A animal control agent trained to understand with dogs should have been there, not some cop holding his gun.

  • The Memory Remains September 7, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I find this subject concerning, not because of what happened to the dogs but the sensationalism reporting on it. St George news has shown they care more about demonizing police than showing the positives of what they do. You do understand there is an Officer in this State that gave his life, St George News only had one AP story they got from somebody else on this. It was short and then they moved on, back to reporting the lighter side of news, bake sales and such. Instead we hear about neglected dogs. Good job St George news keep beating the anti government drum, when a dog is attacking your reporter just try a holistic mind technique, that will work.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic September 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Dear “The Memory Remains”
      Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, that may well be – but from what I take from your concern, I think you may be referring to another news source.
      We do not publish AP stories. Here is a link to the story we published on the horrible loss of Sgt. Derek Johnson:
      http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2013/09/02/mgk-community-law-enforcement-mourn-loss-one-draper-shooting/
      The last bake sale mentioned in our reports was on July 2, a story about the Cedar City Youth Council. Bake sales serve purposes, generally speaking.
      I’m so sorry, I’m not sure I see how this report, on which you are commenting, demonizes the police? We have taken the time to provide context, including the history of similar incidents the St. George Police have addressed with this family. And we have taken the time to give the family opportunity to comment on the incident.
      We regret your misinference of intent here. This incident was startling to people, and rather than sensationalizing, it is our aim to inform with a fuller picture as we are able to pin it down and to report on resolutions to the problem.
      I am most appreciative that you spoke up with your concerns, I hope this helps.
      Sincerely,
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

    • Craig September 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      @ memory remains…
      If you don’t like the reporting on this site, move along. I’m sure no one is forcing you to return for an audit of the news that is covered here. Another suggestion would be for YOU to start your own site. That will enable you to report on what you consider newsworthy.
      As you leave, please don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.

    • Mike Hobson September 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Well said- memory remains. There is a lot of hate speech against police officers in this site, on 1450 am, and by Brian Hyde.

    • MShabazz September 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      What a horrible and false accusation towards STGnews. They are objectively reporting the news. What are they supposed to turn a blind eye to an officer involved shooting of an animal in a residential area??

  • Sherry September 7, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I am not an animal lover, so maybe my opinion does not count. There are several residence in my neighborhood that have dogs. many dogs. I have reported to the St. George Police and the Animal Control (5 times) of my neighbor keeping several dogs and not picking up the dog poop. The smell gets to the point that I can not even go in my side yard or back yard. I reported to the Police that the dogs (3) times were attracting each other. It was the scariest thing I have ever witnessed. My fear of the dogs running loose in the neighborhood, with all the children scares the … out of me. I must say they are very careful to keep the gate closed and keep them in the house at all time, only to let them out to go to the bathroom, which they do not clean up. I think it is one of the highest degrees of cruelty to the dogs. I am talking large pit bulls, Like the family in the article, the number increases and degreases with the coming and going of “roommates”. Across the street is a couple that has who knows how many dogs in their house, but like the other the smell when the wind blows is gagging. I never see their dogs out unless they have a batch of puppies. They keep a child’s plastic pool for them and hose it out in the front driveway, letting it run down the street. I could go on and on with these problems in the area.
    To sum up, the Animal Control Officers and the Police have always showed up as fast as possible, talked to the people and left. Not once have they cited them and the problems just keep on and on. I am ready to call again Monday on the stench of poop.
    If this was a child and not an animal causing these problems, Protective Services would be all over the parents as unfit to have children and take them from them. In the future I just hope that new Animal Control Department will start citing animal owners for their UNFIT Behavior and not licensing animals of which none of these are licensed. Sounds like a really good way to produce money of the Animal Shelter to me…
    .
    Department will start citing animal owners for their UNFIT Behavior and not licensing animals of which none of these are licensed. Sounds like a really good way to produce money of the Animal Shelter to me…
    .
    Ed. ellipsis (first ellipsis only)

  • Better Idea September 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Don’t shoot the dogs. Shoot the dirt bags that don’t bother to take care of their dogs. It always seems like families that are pure scum, choose to have all kinds of dogs, but never bother to keep them confined, licensed or vaccinated.
    I am absolutely a dog lover. But I sure don’t like the slime balls that are too dumb and mainly too lazy to care for their animals.

  • The Memory Remains September 8, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Oh sorry the story says “as reported by KSL”. It’s not the ap but still an outside news agency reporting. It was nice to see the story on the cement arrows, I was being a smart ass about the bake sales. I sensed you got this and fire back with some sarcastically placed humor(which I found funny by the way). I think you missed the point of my post so I will spell it out for you. In Salt Lake City valley a police officer died defending the people of this state. St George News has allowed the hasty criticism of police with little or no factual basis in the past. A day after the death of this officer Stgnews printed a story from KSL about this. There was no follow up on the funeral, no extra reporting, no additional information. No in depth reporting that I have found to enjoy from this website. It is a shame that they will spend so much time on a dog being shot but a Police Officer shot doesn’t get the same kind of reporting. Weather the shooting of this dog was right or wrong is not the issue, it’s the priority of the story that I take issue with. I have been impressed with the St George News in the past, but this is one storyline they fell fall short on.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic September 8, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Gotcha, TMR – Understand our epicenter for coverage is Southern Utah; some things beyond our area are so significant that they bear recognition of course, and the officer shot up north was one such thing, made possible in part by attributing to reports from other media. We would not typically undertake to investigate an incident in depth that occurs that far from here as our focus is our immediate region. I hope that helps and have enjoyed the conversation.
      Keep us sharp, we welcome it. 🙂

      Joyce
      EIC

    • MShabazz September 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      STGNews allows the freedom of speech of it’s readers. There’s a difference. Not everyone is gonna agree with the actions of our local law enforcement, and just because they speak out on it doesn’t mean STGNews should be accused of demonizing the police. Don’t shoot the messenger. (Pun intended)

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