Seymour man sentenced in animal theft case

Jackson Circuit Court Judge Richard W. Poynter didn’t hold back Friday afternoon during a sentencing hearing involving an animal theft and cruelty case.

Although the dog Mark Allan Hammond, 54, of Seymour placed in a dumpster was able to be returned to its owner uninjured, Poynter said his actions were “pretty outrageous.”

“I realize there are some people that see animals as things,” Poynter told Hammond Friday in his courtroom in Brownstown. “You put this animal in a dumpster. If they would have come to pick up the dumpster, the animal would have been crushed alive. That is cruel, Mr. Hammond.”

Shortly after, Poynter found Hammond guilty of theft with a prior conviction, a Level 6 felony, and sentenced him to two years in jail with no time suspended. That will be served consecutively to sentences imposed in two separate Jackson County Superior Court I causes.

Because Hammond pleaded guilty to that charge, the state agreed to drop a Class A misdemeanor charge of cruelty to an animal.

During Friday’s hearing, Hammond admitted to taking the dog, named Dallas, without the consent of its owner, Donna Coffey of Seymour, and placing it in a dumpster behind Taqueria La Mejor, 108 E. Tipton St., Seymour, on the evening of March 8. Hammond said Coffey had been letting him stay at her apartment two blocks away.

In an interview with Coffey, Chuck Heiss, the Seymour Police Department’s animal cruelty investigator, said she had a dispute with Hammond at her apartment the night before. The dog followed Hammond when he left, and out of spite, he put it in a dumpster, Heiss said.

Hammond said he put the dog in a cardboard recycling dumpster, but when Seymour Officer Ryan Cherry arrived at the store, the dog had been pulled out of a dumpster in which the store places its trash. Cherry said the dog was still alive but shivering cold and covered in dirt and sludge.

He transported the dog to the Humane Society of Jackson County in Seymour, where he and Cpl. Devin Cornwell cleaned the dog and gave it food, water and a blanket.

Julie Zickler, director of the Humane Society, determined the dog had a microchip, allowing her to track its ownership history. After ownership was verified, Dallas was released to Coffey on March 9.

Heiss collected evidence near the dumpster and reviewed video surveillance, which showed the dog being placed in the dumpster by a man.

Once Heiss was able to make contact with Hammond, he and Detective Brian Moore conducted an interview, during which Hammond confessed to putting the dog in the dumpster.

During Friday’s hearing, Hammond said he returned to release the dog a half-hour later, but Heiss said police estimated the dog had been there for a matter of hours.

Hammond’s attorney, Joe Robertson, asked him what he learned from his actions.

“I will never do it again,” Hammond said. “I’m sorry it happened. I wish it hadn’t.”

Jackson County Deputy Prosecutor Joshua Scherschel said Hammond has criminal convictions dating back to 1983 and felony convictions going back to 1990 and has served probation several times.

“You say you will learn from it this time?” Scherschel asked.

“It won’t happen again,” Hammond responded.

After Heiss’ testimony, Scherschel read a victim impact statement written by Coffey, who wasn’t able to be at the hearing. She requested Hammond receive the maximum sentence.

“I love my dog, Dallas, very deeply, and (Hammond) knew that, and why he would do this to this poor, defenseless animal is completely wrong and is no different than harming a child,” Coffey wrote.

“Dallas depends on me, and I depend on him,” she said. “He is my protector. He loves to go on walks, and at times, he will ride on the footrest of my wheelchair. I have arthritis real bad, and it’s hard for me to get around. Mark knew that Dallas was my very special pet. We’ve got to speak for the animals because they can’t.”

Poynter told Hammond there’s nothing he can’t stand worse than a predator, which he defined as someone who picks on something that can’t defend itself.

“This isn’t the animal kingdom. We’re human beings. In this code of conduct, we’re supposed to act as human beings,” Poynter told Hammond. “I realize there are some people who don’t give a damn about animals, but I do. It is crime to do what you did, and I’m glad nobody got hurt, but throwing a dog into a dumpster is nothing but pure evil.”

Robertson said while Hammond’s criminal record suggests otherwise, he believes Hammond has learned his lesson and more jail time will not cause him to learn anything more than he already has learned.

He asked Poynter to sentence Hammond to one year in jail all suspended except for the time already served since his arrest and to serve his remaining balance on probation. He said if Hammond were to successfully complete that, the Level 6 felony would be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor.

Scherschel then countered by saying Hammond has shown no record in the last 25 years that he learns from the mistakes he makes, and he asked for the sentence to be fully executed.

Poynter asked Hammond why a man his age would put a dog in a dumpster. Hammond responded by saying the dog wasn’t harmed.

“A dog has to have food. A dog has to have water,” Poynter said. “If the trash would have been picked up, the dog would have been killed by a trash compactor, and you knew that. You’re telling me because you didn’t physically harm the dog that that defeats it?”

Poynter told Hammond it wasn’t his right to take someone else’s dog.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hammond, but you’re going to jail,” Poynter said. “Considering the nature of these circumstances and criminal history while on probation on this case, I find no basis to give you any probation.”

Poynter said Hammond deserved the sentence.

“Maybe next time you’ll think about someone else before you do something this stupid,” Poynter said. “I’m glad (Coffey) got her dog back, Mr. Hammond, but I strongly suggest you don’t do it again. If you come back before me again doing something like this, I will send your butt to prison. Do you understand me?”

Hammond responded, “Yes.”

“I hope, Mr. Hammond, that you make better decisions,” Poynter said.

“Yes, your honor,” Hammond said.

After the hearing, Heiss said he was very pleased with the outcome.

“You just can’t mistreat animals like that and expect that people are not going to take notice or that people are going to stand idly by and let you get away with it,” he said. “What the judge imposed here, to me, was very impressive. I do believe this judge sent a clear message: You mistreat animals here in Jackson County and you’re going to be held accountable.”

Heiss has been Seymour’s animal control officer for two years and earlier this year completed training to be an animal cruelty investigator.

“This is my job. This is why they sent me to the training. This is why instead of just an animal control officer, I’m the animal cruelty investigator because things like this happen, and they need to be adjudicated in court,” he said. “People need to be informed as to what other people are capable of doing to animals, and this man just got two years in (jail).”