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Hartford Officer Shoots, Kills Dog During Dog Fight in Park

  • Logan Scelza with his dogs Echo, left, and Kato at a Hartford High School baseball game on May 4, 2015, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2016

White River Junction — A Hartford police officer was placed on administrative leave this weekend after witnesses say he shot and killed a dog in a fight with his dogs at the Watson Upper Valley Dog Park Saturday.

Police were alerted to a dog fight in the park along Route 14 around 4:30 p.m., according to a news release from Hartford police. When they arrived, people reported that an off-duty officer killed a “pit bull” that he said attacked his husky.

Officer Logan Scelza, who has been with the department for 4 years, was exercising his husky “when it was reportedly bitten in the throat by a pit bull,” the release said.

The incident is currently under investigation by the Vermont State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

One woman who said she saw the altercation said Scelza first tried to pull the dogs apart.

Gabby Lamotte was visiting the park with her boyfriend, her dog and her 4-year-old daughter on Saturday afternoon. She and her daughter were sitting at a picnic table when a black and white husky approached and let them pet it.

Soon, a red and white husky came over, and they were joined shortly after that by a pit bull.

“You could feel like something was about to happen,” said Lamotte, 20, in a phone interview on Sunday.

She said she could feel the tension grow between the dogs, followed by growling and a fight breaking out between the two huskies and the pit bull.

Lamotte said Scelza saw the fight and tried to break up the dogs, but wasn’t strong enough.

“He had the pit bull in his arms and was punching and kicking the pit bull,” she said.

That’s when Lamotte began gathering her daughter and dog to head for their car. They only made it a few feet before they heard gunshots, she said.

“(Scelza) still had the dog in his arms and he was firing at the ground,” she said. “He was shooting right next to the picnic table.”

Lamotte counted three warning shots and another four that hit the pit bull. The family continued to their car, and were followed by Scelza, who was carrying his own injured husky.

Once Scelza got his two dogs into his car, Lamotte said, he left his contact information for the pit bull’s owner and then drove quickly out of the parking lot.

“Everyone was freaking out,” she said, adding that another man at the park then called police. Three police cruisers arrived a few minutes later, she said.

John J. Demers, who in a Facebook post claimed to be the pit bull’s owner, said the officer’s two huskies attacked his dog. He said in the post his dog “has been going to the dog park three times a week for the past couple of years. He’s never been in a fight, growled or displayed any aggression. ... Diesel was a good dog. Friendly. And was trained as a baby.”

Efforts to reach Demers directly for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Scelza is a former Hartford High School baseball player who played on the Hurricanes’ 2009 state title team. He frequently brought his two dogs to public sports events, where they have interacted  with children and other spectators.

Scelza’s injured dog was released from the veterinary hospital and is recovering at home, according to the police news release.

In an interview on Sunday, Hartford Police Chief Phillip Kasten said Scelza did leave the scene to take his dog to the animal hospital, but called 911 on the way. He said it’s not uncommon for officers to be armed while off-duty.

Kasten said Scelza has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.

The Hartford police news release said State Police are “investigating the matter, including the events leading to and following the death of the pit bull.”

The news release said dog park visitors “are reminded to keep their dogs in sight and under control at all times, and are responsible to leash their dogs at the first sign of aggression.”

All three dogs were off-leash in an area of the park where leashes are not required.

According to Vermont law, a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid may be killed if it is “wounding, killing or worrying another domestic pet or wolf-hybrid” and the “attendant circumstances are such that the killing is reasonably necessary to prevent injury to the animal ... which is the subject of the attack.”

In a second news release, Kasten said the Vermont State Police were called to provide a “fair and impartial process.”

“Although the police officer was off-duty at the time of this incident, both he and our entire police department recognize that we’re held to a higher professional standard,” he said in the release. “However that standard does not supersede the rights of any party involved in due process, including being innocent until proven guilty.”

After the incident was initially reported, comments quickly became contentious on social media sites. Kasten said he saw several threats aimed toward people involved.

“Any threats to the safety of anyone will be investigated to the greatest degree of seriousness,” Kasten said in an interview, adding the threats have been discussed with state police officials.

“I call on our residents to renounce any threatening behavior toward the police officer, his family or other members of our department and profession,” Kasten said in the second release. “Such conduct is not only unproductive and divisive, but is contrary to the civility that is the cornerstone of our society.”

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Detective Trooper Mike Notte of the Vermont State Police at michael.notte@vermont.gov, or 802-773-9101.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.