Man faces jail time for taunting police dogs

SOUTH PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP – For months earlier this year, John Brannon, the owner of Shallow Creek Kennels, confronted a mystery. Some of his dogs in training to become police canine officers were being tormented so badly that they were injuring themselves.

And until a few weeks ago, he couldn’t figure out why.

On Wednesday, Richard Layman, 67, of 6484 Lakeside Drive, South Pymatuning Township, turned himself in to face felony charges of taunting a police dog, based on allegations that he tormented the dogs by hovering a drone over their kennels.

 South Pymatuning Township police Sgt. Richard said the injuries to 10 canines, all hand-picked from Europe and brought to Shallow Creek Kennels in South Pymatuning Township to be trained as police service dogs, have cost Brannon at least $70,000.

“(Brannon) said it’s been going on all summer long,” Christoff said. “He put in motion-activated cameras all over the place. They thought they had coyotes. The dogs were going crazy.”

On Oct. 8, Brannon allegedly traced the problem back to his neighbor, Christoff said.

The dogs were trying to jump and chew through the chain-link fenced kennel to get at the drone, which Layman was allegedly hovering just over the kennels late at night, police said.

As a result, one dog – worth $14,000 – had its eyes gouged out. Another dog, valued at $45,000, broke a hip. The injuries disqualified the dogs from becoming part of a K-9 team, and Shallow Creek found suitable homes for them, Christoff said.

Seven more dogs were treated for broken teeth.

In an effort to find out what – or who – was bothering his K-9s, Brannon installed motion-activated cameras around the property. After a training session in October, a police officer training at Shallow Creek complained about a drone hovering over the dogs and following her around in early October. This prompted Brannon to check his cameras. Because one camera had been knocked over and was facing the sky, he was able to catch the drone on a recording, Christoff said.

Brannon then followed the drone to Layman’s property and asked him to keep the drone away.

”But he went back,” Christoff said. “(Layman) could’ve traveled for miles over the woods and the lake, but he decides to harass his neighbors instead.”

 A resident on the kennel property said a drone was spying on her when she was in the back of the house, an accusation that led to additional charges of criminal mischief and harassment against Layman.

What Layman might not have realized, Christoff said, is that taunting and tormenting a police dog is a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

And Layman could have even bigger problems if he is charged with a felony under animal cruelty laws, Officer Paul Tobin of the Humane Society of Mercer County said. While the sentence – minimum $1,000 fine and maximum sentence of two years in jail – the potential financial impacts would be significant.

Tobin said a sentence could include an order to pay restitution, which would include veterinarian charges and replacement costs, already in excess of $70,000. If the injured dogs had already been committed to police departments, Layman could be financially liable for training their replacements and lost time for the police officers – both two- and four-legged – if he is convicted.

”This guy could have his hands full,” Tobin said.

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