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      16 01 2018

     Cat owner accused of 'vigilante justice' in Montgomery County double dog shooting
     CHRISTIANSBURG A man whose cat was chased and killed by two dogs pursued their owner and shot the Labrador retrievers as they rode in the back of a pickup truck, attorneys said Tuesday in Montgomery County General District Court.
     Stephen Nichols Cook, 68, of the Pilot section of the county faced an assortment of charges tied to a November episode that involved the death of Cooks cat, Jeffrey, and of the dogs, named Yancey and Maggie May as well as a tense confrontation over drawn pistols between Cook and the dogs owner, Arthur Hamrick of Christiansburg.
     In a preliminary hearing that ran for more than three hours, Assistant Commonwealths Attorney Dean Manor said Cook had chosen vigilante justice after the death of his pet instead of turning to the police, courts or other nonviolent avenues.
     Judge Randal Duncan agreed, saying he thought Hamrick would have been justified in shooting Cook after Cook pointed a .357-caliber revolver at him.
     From a public safety perspective you cant go around pointing guns at people. And you cant shoot companion animals regardless of whats happened to yours, Duncan said.
     Duncan found Cook guilty of two misdemeanor charges, brandishing a firearm and recklessly handling of a firearm, and fined him $2,500 for each. Duncan also imposed a 12-month jail sentence for each charge, then suspended nine months of each, leaving six months to serve. Duncan sent felony charges of recklessly shooting at a vehicle and two counts of cruelty to animals on to a grand jury, which will decide if enough evidence exists to try those charges in circuit court.
     Cook immediately appealed his misdemeanor convictions and Duncan allowed him to remain free on bond pending the outcome of the appeal but ordered Cook to have no contact with Hamrick.
     Tension between the two men had simmered for years, according to Tuesday testimony.
     A series of witnesses that included Hamrick and Cooks wife, Deborah Cook, described how Hamrick kept cattle on land he owns near the Cooks property. Hamrick would come nearly every day to care for the cattle and would usually bring two dogs, who he released to romp through the woods and streams along Poff School Road.
     In 2012, one of the dogs chased and caught one of Cooks cats, dropping it when a neighbor saw and yelled at the dog, witnesses said. The cat survived and Hamrick paid the bill for a veterinarians care.
     But Hamricks dogs continued to run on the Cooks land, testified Deborah Cook and Lori Lester, the neighbor whod seen the 2012 dog-cat encounter.
     And Cooks cats often gathered around hay bales on Hamricks property, Hamrick testified.
     Cats are running loose, why shouldnt a dog run loose? Hamrick asked.
     Sometime in the early evening of Nov. 6, Hamricks dogs caught another of Cooks cats.
     Deborah Cook said that she heard something thump into the outside of the house and looked out a window.
     It was the two dogs. One of them had Jeffrey in his mouth and was shaking the cat back and forth, she said.
     She woke her husband, she said, who ran out of the house in a T-shirt and underwear to try to save the cat. He returned very upset and began dressing, Deborah Cook testified. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack, she said.
     Stephen Cook quickly left the house again, his wife said.
     Hamrick said that hed finished with his cattle and started back to Christiansburg, pausing to put Maggie May in the back of his truck. He left the pickup gate down because Yancey, the older of the two dogs, would run along and jump in himself as Hamrick drove, Hamrick said.
     Both dogs were in the truck as he turned onto Brush Creek Road and another vehicle raced up behind him, Hamrick said. Hamrick said he pulled over, thinking the vehicle wanted to pass. But the other driver pulled over too.
     It was Cook, who emerged from his vehicle with a dead cat in one hand and a pistol in the other, Hamrick said.
     Hamrick, who said he was hard of hearing, said Cook said something but he didnt know what it was. Then, standing at the side of the pickup, Cook shot the two dogs who were in the pickups bed, Hamrick said.
     Hamrick said he got his own pistol from behind his trucks seat and pointed it at Cook, who went back to his vehicle and drove away.
     Maggie May was dead, Hamrick said. Yancey died before Hamrick reached a veterinarian in Christiansburg.
     Cooks wife testified that when Cook got home, he was crying and said hed shot the dogs. He said he wished hed never done this, she said.
     Cooks attorney, Richard Davis of Radford, told Hamrick that he was sorry his dogs had been killed.
     But Davis argued that Cooks actions had to be seen in the context of his grief at Jeffreys death and of the earlier incident with Hamricks dog and Cooks cat. Manor, the assistant prosecutor, countered that the use of force is only allowed at the time of an attack, not afterward.
     Revenge or anger is not a justification. Thats why we have laws, Manor said.


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