Police dog nearly drowned
A man with a long arrest history was jailed on suspicion that he tried to drown a Grand Junction police dog that tracked the man a quarter-mile from the scene of a suspected burglary late Wednesday.
Richard Stieb, 38, was booked into Mesa County Jail on suspicion of first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, menacing, possession of a weapon by a prior offender, aggravated cruelty to animals, prohibited use of a firearm and reckless endangerment.
An arrest affidavit includes statements from three law enforcement officers who said they watched Stieb grab the dog, a German shepherd named Oldo, and pull it into an irrigation canal after it had tracked the scent of a suspect northwest of a reported burglary on property located at 1766 L 1/2 Road.
“(Grand Junction police officer) Tim Janda said he observed Stieb get bit by Oldo when he was lying on the ground,” the affidavit reads. “Officer Janda said he saw Stieb grab Oldo with both hands and the two of them roll into the water.”
Janda was quoted in the affidavit as saying he jumped onto Stieb, and a struggle ensued, leaving the officer with a sore back and a scraped left knuckle.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release the dog was released to pursue Stieb after the man allegedly failed to comply with officers’ orders. A handgun was recovered near where Stieb had been lying on the ground prior to the encounter with the dog.
“Because of this, deputies feel Oldo was instrumental in keeping a bad situation from becoming much worse,” a Sheriff’s Department news release said.
Oldo, one of three dogs trained and used for various purposes by the Grand Junction Police Department, along with his handler, officer Geraldine Earthman, were called on a request for assistance by deputies and Fruita police, who had responded to a burglary call at 1766 L 1/2 Road. The homeowner told deputies he had walked outside to have a cigarette around 11 p.m., and he noticed a light inside his shed. He took a flashlight to investigate and spotted a man approximately 40 yards away, walking northwest.
“(Homeowner) said he yelled at the man to ‘get back here,’ ” the affidavit said.
To that, the stranger replied, “Get that light off me,” pointed a handgun in the air and fired a shot before yelling, “Get away from me,” the affidavit said.
The homeowner retreated and called 911.
An arrest affidavit said Stieb had scratch marks on his back and neck and complained of shoulder and back pain, as well as possible broken wrists. A 7-inch cut under his right eye required stitches, the affidavit said.
“Stieb said he had been ‘beat up’ by law enforcement for no reason,” the affidavit said. Stieb declined to make further statements without a lawyer.
Oldo suffered bruises to his ears, face and neck and had water and small rocks in his stomach. The dog was treated and is home resting, expected to return to duty Saturday, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Wednesday’s incident was the first line-of-duty injury to a Grand Junction police dog since another German shepherd, Gero, was shot and killed in May 2004 by a suspect involved in a standoff with authorities.
Oldo will turn 8 in November and has served the department since May 2007, police spokeswoman Kate Porras said.
Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Lisa McCammon said deputies believe Stieb was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but she declined to elaborate. Stieb was wanted on suspicion of violating parole, plus a warrant alleging he failed to appear in April for a case involving a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
Stieb was issued a summons in June 2009 after he allegedly was found tampering with a backyard shed at a Grand Junction home, startling the homeowner in the process, according to court records.
“I opened my back door, and this guy was standing there,” the victim in the case wrote in a court filing. “I asked him what he was doing in my yard at 3 a.m. ‘Chasing rabbits’ was his reply.”
Court records suggest Stieb sought to introduce an affirmative defense to the trespassing charge: Self-induced intoxication due to prescription drugs. Prosecutors in the case wrote in a filing that Stieb has a history of methamphetamine use.
Since 1990, Stieb has been arrested or issued a summons 10 times on charges including vehicular assault, drug violations and auto theft, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records.
During that time, he has served three stints in state prison, the most recent in February 2005 after he pleaded guilty to felony theft and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
The records suggest Montrose prosecutors in January 2005 dismissed habitual-criminal charges under a plea agreement.
Stieb is expected to make his initial court appearance today for his most recent arrest.