Prosecutors: Inquiry into dog park shooting may take another week

Midday rally for Bear-Bear staged in front of courthouse

August 16, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

As a group of 20 people demonstrated Monday outside the Anne Arundel County courthouse in Annapolis supporting of the owners of a dog fatally shot Aug. 2 in a Severn park, county prosecutors said it may take another week or more for them to finish their investigation and decide whether to charge the shooter.

The delay in reaching that decision is because of the complexity of the issues, said Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the county state's attorney's office, who said prosecutors have no estimated date for the decision.

"We are also conducting some supplemental interviews," she said. "No decision will be made until all of those are complete."

They expect this week to question Steven Ryan Kurinij, the man who brought his sister's dog, Bear-Bear, a Siberian husky, to the private dog park in the Quail Run community. Kurinij is the brother of Rachel Rettaliata, who with her husband, Ryan Keegan Rettaliata, owned Bear-Bear. The couple has said Kurinij brought the dog to the fenced park most evenings.

Noting the continuing investigation, Fleckenstein would not say who else the two prosecutors handling the case want to question. She said her office is working with the police and other agencies, which she declined to specify.

Police have refused to identify the shooter, a federal officer employed by the Army at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Northern Virginia, and they released a copy of the initial police report but with his name and other information redacted.

A report without redactions obtained by The Baltimore Sun identifies him as Keith Elgin Shepherd. No one answered the door Monday at the home listed in the report. David Putzi, an attorney for the shooter, would not confirm his client's name.

He said prosecutors have not asked whether his client would submit to questioning by them, but said his client has cooperated with police.

Putzi said he was "surprised that it would take all week or more" for a decision on whether his client would be charged. Still, he said, "The issues, especially regarding the weapon stuff, are complex and unique."

Prosecutors said last week that key issues focused on whether the shooter was legally allowed to carry a personal handgun off-post, as his lawyer maintains he is; whether he broke the law in shooting the husky; and what actually happened. Only the people involved — Kurinij, the shooter and a woman identified in the report as his wife — were in the dog park.

Whether the husky was playing, as its owners maintained, or attacking the Shepherds and their dog, Asia, as the Shepherds maintain, is in dispute. According to the report, Shepherd told police that after Bear-Bear attacked Asia and turned on him, he asked Kurinij to intervene, but Kurinij did not move, so he fired. Kurinij told police he did not know what was going on, and "the next thing he knew 'Bear' was on the ground," according to the report.

On the sidewalk in front of the courthouse at lunchtime Monday, about 19 people — some displaying "Justice for Bear-Bear" signs and shirts, and some sitting with their huskies — made a show of support organized through Facebook. The group included people who had traveled from Falls Church, Va., Carroll County and the Eastern Shore to say they hoped prosecutors would thoroughly investigate the incident and charge the federal officer. Drivers honked as they drove past.

Alyssa Nantt of Trappe, there with two dogs, said she was disturbed by the notion of someone bringing a gun to a dog park. "This guy thinks problems can be solved by shooting a gun," she said.

"It made me smile to know people really care," Ryan Rettaliata said late Monday. He did not attend the rally.

According to the unredacted report, Shepherd told police that Kurinij seemed "out of it" after the shooting, and an officer who spoke with Kurinij thought Kurinij seemed slow to answer. The report also said that Ryan Rettaliata told police that his brother-in-law "is very slow mentally, he has issues." If that is the case, Putzi said, it makes prosecution that much more difficult.

Rettaliata has denied making the remark about his brother-in-law.

Rather, said Charlotte Weinstein, attorney for the Rettaliatas, Ryan Rettaliata told police that Kurinij has a mild form of Tourette's syndrome. He has facial tics, she said.

"It does not impede his ability to think, know right from wrong, or to react," Weinstein said. "If someone with emotions witnesses a gun being fired, a dog being shot and their dog lying there bleeding, of course they are going to be in shock," she said.

A neighbor of the Shepherds who asked not to be named said Monday that they had lived near her for barely six months, and seemed like nice, friendly people.

She said she felt terrible for everyone involved. "It's a tragedy the whole way around."

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