LOS ANGELES -- A veteran Los Angeles County assistant fire chief was on paid administrative leave Friday while the Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigates his self-defense claim in the beating of a neighbor's puppy that had to be euthanized.
"The Los Angeles County Fire Department is deeply concerned with allegations regarding Assistant Fire Chief Glynn Johnson's actions in the beating of his neighbor's dog," said county fire Chief P. Michael Freeman in a statement.
Deputies were sent around 4:30 p.m. Monday to the 17000 block of Armintrout Drive, in the unincorporated community of Woodcrest, just south of Riverside.
They responded to two calls at the location -- one from a woman saying her husband had just been attacked by a canine, and another from a man stating his neighbor had "beaten someone's dog with a boulder," said sheriff's Sgt. David Barton.
An investigation revealed that a 6-month-old puppy had wandered away from its owner's property and into a neighbor's yard. Barton said the neighbor was taking the dog back to its owner's property when he was approached by the suspect, who offered to take the dog back himself.
After handing the dog over, the witness told deputies he saw the suspect "beating the dog with his hands," Barton said in a statement. "At one point, the witness claimed he saw him use a nearby rock to strike the dog."
The dog's owner, Shelly Toole, told KTLA-TV her pet, Karley, was so badly injured that it had to be put down. Toole alleged that Johnson, who lives next door, beat the dog in a violent rage.
Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said that in talking with residents on the street, investigators got the sense that Toole and Johnson had previously been at odds.
Johnson, who sought treatment for an injured wrist and thumb at a Riverside-area hospital," claimed he had been attacked by the dog and only struck it in self-defense," Barton said.
Los Angeles County's fire chief said in his statement: "Prior to the news reports, Chief Johnson had advised his superiors of the incident and explained his actions as self-defense."
"Given the nature of the allegations and the ongoing Riverside County sheriff's investigation, Chief Johnson has been placed on administrative leave with pay," Freeman said. "Once more facts are available, the department will take appropriate action as warranted."
According to KTLA-TV, a witness, Travis Staggs, said he was walking the dog back to its owner, past Johnson's house, when Johnson stepped in and said he would take the puppy home.
Staggs told KTLA-TV that he handed over the animal and Johnson started beating the dog, which had not attacked the suspect.
According to Staggs, Johnson hit the dog repeatedly with a closed fist, put his hands in the puppy's mouth and tried to break its jaws, and eventually beat the dog over the head repeatedly with a large rock from the front yard.
"A thorough investigation is being done in order to determine if a crime has been committed," Barton said.
He noted that California Penal Code Section 597 makes it a felony for anyone to maliciously and intentionally maim, torture or wound a living animal.
Pending the outcome of the sheriff's investigation, the case may be referred to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office for further review, Barton said.