This Just In: Shooting a Dog at a Dog Park is Apparently Not a Crime in Harris County

A Harris County grand jury has declined to indict a man who shot and killed a dog at a Clear Lake-area dog park in January, KPRC is reporting.

Joseph Potts, 27, was charged with felony animal cruelty in March. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson told KPRC that, "Although this is a setback in this particular case,  we are going to aggressively prosecute cruelty to animal charges, and this does not make it open season on dogs in dog parks."

But based on what witnesses told investigators (and The Houston Press) it actually seems like "open season" is precisely the message the grand jury sent in its decision not to indict.

The 6'7", 230 pound Potts, who was at the park with his wife and two dogs,  told the responding Harris County Sheriff's Officer January 25 that the dog was acting aggressively, and he shot it three times out of fear for his and his wife's safety, as well as his dogs'. 

According to the Sheriff's Office report:

"Mr. Potts stated he had entered into the dog park with his wife and two dogs. Mr. Potts advised while inside the dog park his wife had one of their dogs on the leash and he was throwing a ball with his other dog. Mr. Potts said that a Pit Bull type dog approached his dog and began to get aggressive. Mr. Potts said he was not able to get the dog to leave them alone and stated that the dog became more and more aggressive as time passed until the dogs were growling and beginning to fight. Mr. Potts said he attempted to get the dog off of his dog by kicking at it. Mr. Potts said he kicked the dog away but again it kept coming at him and his dog. Mr. Potts stated he began to fear for the safety of his dogs, his wife and himself. Mr. Potts then drew his handgun, striking him three times. Mr. Potts said he never saw anyone attempting to get the dog away from him and said at that point he was in fear of being injured by the dog. Mr. Potts said he was sorry, stated he didn't want to harm the dog but felt he had no choice."
Veterinary records showed that the dog, a Staffordshire terrier named Diesel, "was in shock, had a collapsed lung, chest trauma, radial ulnar fracture, and the dog could not stand up or use his rear limbs at all. Due to the serious bodily injury suffered by the dog, poor prognosis, and pain, the dog was euthanized," according to a Harris County Sheriff's Officer's affidavit.

The investigator's affidavit also includes statements from witnesses who say that they did not witness Diesel acting aggressively. Potts' wife, Jennifer, told the investigator that "Diesel was snarling and sniping at their dogs, but never made contact with their dogs and did not bite her. Mrs. Potts said she was afraid of being bitten," the affidavit states.

Another witness told the Press that Jennifer Potts was approximately 15-20 yards away from her husband and Diesel at the time and was never in danger. 

That witness also alleged that what he told the responding deputy was not what wound up in the deputy's report: The deputy had reported that this witness was "20 to 30 yards away" from Potts and the dogs, but the witness told us that he told the deputy he was 8 feet away.

"I had a perfect view," that witness told us. "I stood there at a perfect zero-degree angle, straight ahead. Everything was right in front of me."

As we reported in January, the witness told us that Diesel and Potts' German shepherd were play-wrestling, "and [Potts] kicks the dog and tells it to fuck off. And at that moment, the dog whimpered...and then [Potts'] dog comes and reinitiates to play....And at that moment, [Potts] pulls out his gun, takes aim. One bullet. Pow. And then the dog cries. Re-aims the gun." Potts fired two more rounds.

The witness alleged that Potts didn't hesitate, and added, "He had no remorse. He held his gun in the air as my wife asked [what did you do]? And he said, 'What do you think I just did? These are real fucking bullets.'"

Another witness told us in January that she was only a few feet away from the shooting, but that when she tried to tell an officer what she saw, the officer only told her that Potts had a right to carry a gun.

She told us: "I tried to explain, like — kids are coming to the park. Nobody's life was in danger. He put everyone's life in danger...and the cop, he was like, 'I'm not going to talk to you.'"

The woman said she was still shaken up by the shooting, and said that she felt Potts endangered everyone in the park by firing his weapon.

"He had no right to put us in this situation," she said.

The woman said that after the shots were fired, "The owner said, 'Is it a real bullet?' And [Potts] said, 'What do you think? Of course I'm going to put [a] real fucking bullet in my gun."

On a Facebook page in Diesel's memory, the dogs' owners recently posted, "It is with a heavy heart to inform all that we received a no bill from grand jury... Thank you for all the love and outstanding support."
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow