CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign man who allegedly sicced his dog on police officers attempting to arrest his girlfriend Thursday night has been criminally charged. Champaign police responded by shooting and killing the dog outside the west Champaign home.
Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler said John P. Cargo, 41, of the 1000 block of West William Street, Champaign, was charged Friday with felony resisting a peace officer and misdemeanor aggravated assault in connection with the incident, which started about 11:30 p.m. when officers tried to arrest Lisa G. Ehler, 52, of the same address, for driving under the influence.
Ziegler said police received a call at 11:22 p.m. of a person who had been seen driving fast and erratically on Prospect Avenue. The caller identified the car for police and said Ehler was the driver.
Ziegler said officers found her near her car at the William Street home and said she appeared to be intoxicated.
As they were placing her under arrest, Cargo came out of the house and tried to get in Ehler's car.
"Cargo comes out while they're dealing with Ehler and is told to stay away from them and her car and the witness. Basically, he goes back into the house," said Ziegler.
"As he has the door open, he appears to call to someone or something and the next thing the officers know, a pit bull appears and comes out the door. They order Cargo to restrain the dog. He does not do that and apparently waves in the direction of the officers. The dog then moves toward the officers," he said.
Ziegler said there were at least two and possibly three officers present.
"One officer tried to push the dog away with his foot and the dog growled and snarled at the officers and eventually they had to make the decision to shoot the dog. There is no mention of Cargo trying to comply at all with their commands to restrain the dog," Ziegler said.
After the dog was shot, Cargo came back out of the house and police started to arrest him, but he resisted them.
"He struggles with the officers and winds up falling with at least one officer into thorn bushes, and he and the officer get cut up on the bush and maybe something else," said Ziegler.
Ziegler said Cargo is accused of a felony resisting charge because Officer Corey Phenicie was injured and assault for allegedly siccing the dog on Phenicie.
In a release about the incident, Champaign police did not say which officers or how many were involved but did say that the injured officer did not require medical treatment. Cargo was taken to Carle FoundationHospital in Urbana, where he was treated for minor injuries then taken to the county jail.
He was arraigned Friday and asked for time to hire his own attorney. He was released from jail Friday afternoon after posting $1,000 cash bond and is due back in Feb. 22.
Court records show Cargo has prior misdemeanor convictions for battery and escape.
Ehler was arrested for DUI but released early Friday morning after posting bond.
Police did not return calls or email requests to answer questions about the dog shooting.
Ziegler said he had no idea who shot the dog or how many times.
A couple who lives next door to Ehler and Cargo said they heard three shots.
Dan and Liz Maloney said they heard a commotion outside and noticed more than one police car present when the shots were fired.
"I was very alarmed that someone had been injured," said Liz Maloney, who said she eventually saw both Ehler and Cargo in handcuffs and walking so knew they were OK.
"That was our main concern," she said of her neighbors. Liz Maloney said Ehler has rented the house next door for several years. The Maloneys have lived in their house 20 years. The neighborhood is just east of Clark Park.
Liz Maloney said after the ambulance and police cars left, she later saw a minivan arrive and two men take the dog carcass away. The dog's body was partly on the sidewalk and partly on the boulevard in front of the home.
"It's a lot of drama," said Liz Maloney. "What really bothered me is that the police were looking our vehicle over, I assume for damage, and our tree trunk. There may have been stray bullets or ricochet or something," she said.
Both Liz and Dan Maloney said they didn't know what prompted the shots. They just knew they were concerned for their teenage daughter, who slept through the incident in an upstairs bedroom close to where the altercation happened.
"I have concerns about that. I don't know what was going on in the heat of the moment, but three shots for a dog? I don't know," Liz Maloney said. "Especially in light of the bad press the police are getting from the other dog that was shot. We just have concerns about shots being fired in the dark at night in a residential area."
Police Chief Anthony Cobb told The News-Gazette last month in the wake of the shooting death of a dog in southwest Champaign on Nov. 17, that he planned to begin training officers in the appropriate use of force in dealing with vicious animals.
He also said the department had amended its policy to specify that an aggressive animal must present an imminent threat to a human before deadly force could be used.
An internal investigation of that shooting, which happened in a residential neighborhood at John and Crescent streets, concluded that Officer Andre Davis had acted within departmental policy when he shot and killed a Labrador that was fighting with a pit bull.