BREAKING: Sheriff announces there will be no charges in shooting of combat K9 Michael

POWELL – The Park County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday evening. They also released this Final Case Summary.

The investigation into the shooting of a retired military service dog on October 10, 2015 in rural Park County has been completed with no charges being filed. The dog, named Michael belonged to Matthew Bessler, age 43 of Powell. Michael was shot and killed after he attacked a local resident who was bicycling past Mr. Bessler’s residence.

The victim, Jeffery Marvin Brandt, age 59 also from Powell stated that he was riding his mountain bike east on Lane 9 and was in the process of turning north on Road 5, when he was attacked by a German shepherd looking dog. He immediately got off his bike and used it to shield himself from the attacking dog. Brandt said that as the dog was attempting to get at him, he continued to circle back and forth, using his bicycle as a shield. Eventually, he was able to reach his bicycle-mounted holstered revolver and shoot the dog. He said he was genuinely in fear of his life and well being and the dog was “definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all.”

Sheriff Steward indicated very early on in the investigation that it would continue in order to clarify certain discrepancies that manifested themselves in the days following the incident. These included contradictions in statements made by the victim during the course of the investigation versus statements attributed to Mr. Bessler in the media.

“We re-interviewed all of the participants and witnesses that were directly involved on the day of the shooting,” Steward said. “In addition, sheriff’s investigators sought out and interviewed Mr. Bessler’s neighbors and anyone else we could find that had prior contact with Michael to determine the accuracy of Mr. Bessler’s claims regarding Michael’s behavior. We felt we had an obligation to all parties to be as thorough as possible.”

The investigation revealed that Michael has been seen off of Mr. Bessler’s property on several occasions in the past year. Also, witnesses related to have seen Michael act in an aggressive manner towards people and other dogs in the past. Michael had also attacked a 70-year-old man this past April, causing injuries that took more than a month to heal.

“Given the statements made by the victim as well as the lone witness, combined with the physical evidence and statements gathered from neighbors and other informed parties to Michael’s past behavior, we have determined to accept the description of the attack by the victim, to be factual,” said Steward. “Therefore, there will be no charges filed.”

“However, we are also inclined to believe Mr. Bessler’s statements about Michael’s behavior in his presence,” Steward continued. “We are confident that for the majority of the time, Michael was a caring, faithful companion to Mr. Bessler that served to calm him through his admitted problems with post  traumatic stress disorder. We are also sensitive to the fact that both Michael and Mr. Bessler served their country with pride and distinction during their two tours in Iraq. However, we cannot ignore the independent witness accounts of Michael’s behavior as well.”

“This was a tragic situation for all those involved,” continued Steward. “There are no winners here, only losers. There are four victims as a result of this incident: Matthew Bessler, who lost a loving, devoted companion and family member; Jeffrey Brandt, also an Army veteran who, as a result of the vile, disgusting comments made on social media, lost his sense of safety, security and freedom for him and his family; Jody Church who was in charge of Michael at the time and will have to live with Michael’s death on his watch; and of course, Michael who paid the ultimate price, probably only acting as he was trained to do.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved. We can only hope that those who wish to pass judgment prematurely in the print and social media without full possession of the facts will learn something from this incident,” concluded Sheriff Steward.