ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – No criminal charges will be filed against the man who shot his neighbor’s dog in Wayne Aug. 10 because evidence – both video and an eyewitness account – show he was justified, Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser stated at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Mosser and Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain detailed the investigation and how the evidence showed no charges were justified.
“He shot Ludwig out of fear for his life,” Mosser said of Hal Phipps, husband of Wayne Village President Eileen Phipps, who lives next door to Joe Petit, owner of Ludwig and a second dog, Philotimo, on Pearson Drive. Their backyards face the Fox River.
Mosser said their decision had nothing to do with politics, Eileen Phipps’ position in Wayne, nor on the Justice for Ludwig movement, but only on the facts of the evidence.
“I can only decide a case based on the law and the facts that are before me,” Mosser said. “I have to do so in a fair and ethical way. And the facts and the relevant law in this case show that I cannot charge Mr. Phipps as a result of the shooting.”
Hal Phipps has a valid FOID card and is legally allowed to carry it on his own property, Hain said.
The video evidence of Petit’s own home surveillance shows that both dogs went onto Phipps’ property. The dogs had attacked Phipps one month earlier, Hain said, so Phipps began carrying a loaded .38 handgun while doing yard work out of fear of Petit’s dogs.
“Hal Phipps was doing yard work close to the river on his property when two of his neighbors’ dogs – one being the same one that allegedly attacked him approximately one month earlier – came onto his property and were approaching him aggressively and growling at him from what he estimated was 10 feet away,” Hain said. “The dog was also blocking his pathway from the edge of Mr. Phipps’ property back to his house.”
Hal Phipps fired one shot from the five-shot pistol at close range, Hain said.
That type of gun is only accurate at close range, Hain said. One of Petit’s dogs was 15 to 20 feet away from Phipps and the other was five to 10 feet way, so he shot the nearest dog.
Addressing the Justice for Ludwig movement, Hain said he recognized that it was “difficult for people to separate factual evidence from the hurt of this incident.”
“For some people, this was not the answer they were expecting today,” Hain said.
As to the woman who was in the river playing with Petit’s dogs, Hain said on the day of the shooting, she was “visibly intoxicated” and changed her story multiple times.
Mosser said they would not institute charges against her for giving conflicting details because she does not believe the woman was actively lying.
“I believe that she was under the influence,” Mosser said. “I believe that she was traumatized. I believe that she loved the dogs. And I believe that when you have trauma – like this happened in front of you – you don’t necessarily recall things in the right way.”
Petit’s own video surveillance also confirmed that the dogs were not near her in the water when Ludwig was shot.
Instead, the video shows the two dogs going onto Phipps’ property, one dog running to the river and a second dog running to Petit’s house, and then Petit coming out.
An independent witness from across the river heard dogs barking aggressively, and when he looked over, heard one shot and saw one dog stumble to the river’s edge and fall into the water, Hain said.
He saw the woman grab the dog and then a man – Petit – came and carried the dog away, Hain said.
Because the woman in the river was some 30 to 40 feet away from the shooting, Mosser said she could not justify charging Phipps with reckless discharge of a firearm.
Her claim to be in the water with both dogs when Ludwig was shot was refuted by the video and the independent witness account, Mosser said.
“She was not in danger of being shot,” Mosser said.
A charge of aggravated cruelty to a companion animal was also not justified, Mosser said.
“It is my belief, from the evidence we have now, that Mr. Phipps feared for his safety and his life and was legally justified in the shooting of Ludwig,” Mosser said. “As such, no charges will be filed against Mr. Phipps for the shooting of Ludwig.”
A sworn statement from a neighbor who said Phipps said he would shoot Petit’s dogs does not negate Phipps’ fear of the dogs, Mosser said.
Mosser said they called the news conference because of the many phone calls, emails and letters she received demanding that charges be filed against Phipps, the widespread Justice for Ludwig movement and the public interest in the situation.
“As a dog owner myself, I am deeply saddened by the death of Ludwig,” Mosser said. “I have personally seen the sorrow on the face of Mr. Petit, and I know that he will forever be traumatized by this incident. I am also sorry for the Wayne community and the division that this has caused. I truly hope that we can all learn from this incident. I hope that amends can be made between Mr. Petit and Mr. Phipps.”
The Justice for Ludwig signs and the outpouring of letters to her show that a community can come together to support one of its own, Mosser said, and she hoped this support can lead to healing.
If there is a lesson somewhere in this, Mosser said, it is to keep your dogs from being loose.
“I think we all know when a dog is loose, anything can happen,” Mosser said. “In this case, Sheriff Hain and I met with the other dog, and it was not aggressive with us, it was a very sweet dog. But when dogs are not with their owners, anything can happen because they are animals. Yes, I believe that that is a portion of all of this unfortunate tragedy that occurred.”
Hain, who said he is a dog lover and has four of his own, said his office gets calls every day about loose dogs and frequently about dog bites.
“It is incredibly incumbent upon people to keep control of their animals,” Hain said. “There is a very strong message here, keep control of your animals.”
Neither Phipps nor Petit responded to text message seeking comment.