A spillover crowd in Middletown Municipal Court on Friday finished a heated week on a Madison Twp. street after an incident that raised questions about what residents can do if they feel threatened by animals on their property.
The crowd, mostly protesters, appeared for the arraignment of Charles K. Miller, 60, of Madison Twp., who is accused of striking his neighbor’s German Shepherd named Ruger in the head with a bat while it was in his yard on Monday night. The dog was later euthanized.
They packed the courtroom, leaving some who wanted to attend the arraignment watching on TV monitors in the hallway. The crowd was so large and intense that several Middletown police officers and detectives stood in the courtroom during the one-minute hearing.
Miller was arrested Wednesday evening after the charge was raised from misdemeanor to fifth-degree felony. He was first charged on Tuesday with a misdemeanor before the charge was changed.
Skyler Foster, Ruger’s owner, was cited for failing to keep a dog physically restrained or secured after the incident that caused high emotions as residents disputed how the dog ended up the neighbor’s yard and how many times it was struck with a bat.
Butler County Deputy Dog Warden Supervisor Kurt Merbs said Miller was charged with cruelty because of the number of times he allegedly hit the dog.
“You are allowed to protect yourself against a threatening animal on your property,” Merbs said. “(If he) pulled out a gun and shot and killed it, there would be no charges. And the owner would still get a citation.”
Two Middletown police officers and Court Administrator Steve Longworth stood a few feet away from Miller, who was sitting with his attorney, Thomas Manning.
After Manning said his client pleaded not guilty and Miller walked out of the courtroom, one man pretended he coughed and yelled: “Murderer.” Longworth reprimanded the man for his actions and told him that behavior wasn’t permitted in the court.
Earlier, as more than 50 protesters waited to pass through the metal detectors, Longworth told them, “There will be no problems in this court.” He told the protesters to leave their signs outside the courtroom.
Middletown police Maj. Scott Reeve, one of those in the court, said Middletown police provide courtroom security frequently when there are numerous “upset people,” but typically that happens for murder cases.
Since the incident Monday, Butler County sheriff;s deputies have responded to the 4400 block of Elk Creek Road several times, and patrols have been added to the area, said Capt. Lance Bunnell from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office
“We are monitoring the situation closely,” he said. “We are monitoring social media. Just trying to maintain the peace, doing that by extra patrols and making sure everything is as calm as it can be at this point.”
Bunnell said sheriff’s cruisers have been parked at a nearby church to “respond quickly.”
On Friday, Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron set Miller’s preliminary hearing for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 23. He remained free on $10,000 bond. As Miller got into his truck and drove out of the City Building parking lot, protesters chased after him, chanting “murderer” and waving “Justice for Ruger” signs.
Those who attended the arraignment said they plan to follow the case and support Ruger because he has “no voice.”
The dog’s owners, Kevin Foster and his daughter, Skyler,, attended Miller’s arraignment and held an impromptu press conference outside the City Building. They were flanked by supporters holding “Justice for Ruger” signs.
Kevin Foster said it was important to attend the hearing because he “didn’t want Ruger to die in vain.”
He said protesters will attend every court hearing.
“He’s not going to win this,” Foster said. “He did it. We are not going to stop. There doesn’t need to be another Ruger.”
The Monday incident began a heated week on Elk Creek Road in Madison Twp. that included multiple police calls for threats. Kevin Foster was arrested during one of those police responses for an unrelated warrant.
Kevin Foster said the Butler County Sheriff’s Office issued him a restraining order Thursday night to stay away from Miller. If not for the support he has received, Foster said he’d probably be in jail for harming Miller, whom he called the “most hated man in America.”
Skyler Foster said she doesn’t like living across the street from the man who allegedly killed her dog. Miller said the dog was attacking his chickens, then he feared for his safety.
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