THE VICTIMIZATION OF VALERIE LANTZ
“The vast majority of criminal cases that come through the Copper Country courts are resolved before they come to trial,” the reporter wrote under the headline, “Stray dog complaint ends in jury trial”. Since no reporter attended the April 30, 2005 jury trial, it’s obvious this man based his story on spoon-fed information that certainly wasn’t representative of several disturbing aspects of the 10-month long, 8-court appearance case.
Had he taken the time to investigate, he might have realized that also resolved could have been the matter of the People of the State of Michigan v Valerie Ann Lantz on the misdemeanor complaint of “being the owner of a certain dog, to wit: a large long haired black dog”, who allowed “said dog to stray” on June 18, 2004 “while not being properly held in leash, contrary to MCL 287.262 (287.262.B)”. The offense is punishable by 3 months in jail and/or not less than $10 or more than $100.
Valerie Lantz, an attractive 56-year old woman who stands 5’ 3” and weighs all of 100 lbs, is a 4th generation farmer who paid cash for a 79-acre Upper Peninsula farm, neglected for 20 years. She built a new barn and took machete and brushhog in hand to reclaim pasture, which at one time supported over 50 head of her cattle.
She won her county’s “Friend of the Farmer” award in 1988 and once served, as both Chairman and Secretary, on a local Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee. Before environmentalists got in her face, she was farm host for grade school and Sunday school field trips. Though it’s not a “gold mine”, her farm, high on a hill above beautiful Lake Superior, sits atop rich deposits of native copper, no doubt coveted as a global natural resource.
Few citizens of Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula know that for well over a decade Valerie Lantz has had to defend herself against a litany of asinine complaints directed at her by specific neighbors now identified as members of land trusts or the many networking environmental groups, councils, and committees such trusts spawn.
These people are very much in the business of determining how Keweenaw land may be used, and it’s very likely Val’s farm doesn’t fit their landscape conservation plan, present or future, as they continue their mainland bio-reserve building around the core U. N. Isle Royale Biosphere in Lake Superior. When completed, the Human Footprint will be pretty much erased, not just in the Keweenaw, but all across the Upper Peninsula and around all the Great Lakes.
Regardless, the charge against Valerie should have been dismissed, but her many motions to do so were denied. You see, she wasn’t in violation of MCL 287.262, which in part reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person…to allow any dog, except working dogs such as…farm dogs…, when accompanied by their owner or authorized agent, while actively engaged in activities for which such dogs are trained, to stray unless properly held in leash.” (Information on 287.262 B wasn’t forthcoming despite several post-trial calls to the local prosecutor’s office.)
Val’s friendly dog, “Spirit”, is trained to head and heel cattle, protect all farm animals and his master from wolves and other predators, and to keep deer out of pasture and feedlot because of the threat they pose to livestock. He’s a working farm dog who, by rights, is exempt from Michigan’s Leash Law.
On June 18, 2004 Spirit was with Valerie, systematically working along the vast road front of her farmland property well before, in front of, and then on past a neighbor’s residence. During that time, he was accused of attacking a fawn in a shallow ditch alongside that neighbor’s lawn while its mother stood nearby.
Valerie has every reason to believe that Spirit was under her reasonable control and didn’t stray far from her side that morning. She was bringing the fence line out toward the rural road all along her property and he was helping move cattle into the new grazing area. Had he been involved in the attack, Val’s certain she would have seen the commotion or heard all the shouting said to have ensued.
The complaint alleges that Valerie owns a large longhaired black dog, but she owns only Spirit, a medium sized, medium-length haired, completely black backed Shetland Sheepdog-Heinz mix. He has a white face complimented by collie brown across his eyes like a bandit’s mask. There’s white fur above his eyes and in front of his ears. His muzzle and fluffy neck bib are white, and so is his belly.
In sworn testimony, a neighbor, claiming to have been flagged down by two others when passing by, said she saw Val’s dog “in the process of killing a deer”. Remarkably, though she’d made no mention in her written statement of witnessing this attack, she gruesomely recalled it for the jury. This woman, who said she knew Spirit by sight, described him as having a “dark face with white toward his back”, and said he growled at her from a distance of 4 or 5 feet while she shouted and drove him away.
In contradictory testimony, which also conflicted with his own written statement, the property owner said he’d shouted at the dog that was stalking him from the woods and it finally “went home”. Then, he claimed, his wife ran inside to call the sheriff and when she came back they flagged down the woman who purportedly shouted and chased off a dog “in the process of killing” a fawn; the same dog that had already “gone home”.
Stranger yet is that the man’s wife said she was able to hear the sound of an animal in distress way out near the road while inside her house with only the back windows open and her husband running the lawnmower. Odd, too, that she didn’t mention calling the Department of Natural Resources in her written statement, but, while on the witness stand, claimed to have called the DNR, found their line busy, and then called the sheriff.
However, since the three had been allowed to sit in court when the case was discussed during a pre-trial hearing, it’s entirely possible an attempt was made to plug holes in their fairy tale during trial testimony.
Valerie, who wasn’t issued a ticket, found a handwritten “make-do” summons in her mailbox on June 24, 2004. There was no envelope, no date, and it was sloppily penned on sheriff department stationary with the words “may be” scratched over. It was written like this: “Val. You have to appear in 97th District Court in Houghton on Wednesday June 30 at 10.00 A.m. You are being charged with allowing your Dog to stray. Their may be might be restitution For the Dead Fawn (To the state). Make sure you appear or a warrant will have to be issued for your arrest.” The investigating officer, who moonlights as a nature photographer, signed the note, and, of course, there was no proof of service.
When Valerie appeared in court on June 30th, the Judge needed to ask her why she was there because neither the prosecutor nor investigating officer bothered to show up. He had no facts and put off the matter until July. After adjournment, Valerie asked to see her file and found only a warrant, dated June 23rd, asking that “the defendant be apprehended and dealt with according to law.”
The nonsense of this case played out through 8 court appearances over a period of 10 months. Just a few facts are: the DNR, under whose jurisdiction this complaint fell, should and could have been called to investigate, but wasn’t; the witnesses moved the injured fawn to another area well before the deputy arrived, but they didn’t agree on where; the property owner denied Valerie’s request to see the fawn; the fawn’s death was “confirmed” two days later by phone call from deputy to a witness who claimed it had died the following day; there was an implied threat of $1000 restitution for the deer’s death; there was no autopsy to determine cause or show proof of death; Spirit is not a large longhaired black dog with a dark face and white toward his back; a handwritten summons, sans date and envelope, to appear in court was stuffed in Val’s mailbox; and, except for the arrest warrant, there was an empty file 12 days after the incident when the defendant appeared in court only to be told to go home and come back later.
Still, the court refused to dismiss charges and the case went to trial. The prosecutor opened by telling the jury that Ms. Lantz’s dog was seen with “a whole fawn in its mouth”. Those attending, including a juror nodding off after lunch, sat through many hours of hearsay about an injured fawn that later died. They heard damning testimony about a roaming, mean-tempered dog that had growled at the witnesses, stalked and threatened them; the same dog one described as being something other than Spirit.
When it was Valerie’s turn to present her case, she was interrupted for lunch and then again later during her own testimony when she was explaining that not only must Spirit keep wolves and other predators away from her cattle, potbelly pigs, and chickens, but he also must keep deer away because of the bovine TB threat and other diseases they carry.
It was then that the Court interrupted Valerie to say that deer weren’t the issue; the charge was for an unleashed dog. Stunned and no longer able to talk about a deer that had been talked about all morning, she left the stand.
At closing, the prosecutor painted Valerie as a habitual offender, saying there had been many complaints lodged against her. He didn’t bother, though, to tell the jury that the complaints held no water. Instead, he said Ms. Lantz felt that because she had the right to farm, her livestock and dog could roam wherever they want; that her farm dog was allowed to “run deer” and had a “propensity” to do so.
There is, dear readers, a difference between a trained farm dog running deer off farmland and “running deer” to the point of exhaustion and perhaps death. And, even though it had just been said that deer weren’t the issue, the prosecutor chose to ignore the Court and make a highly inflammatory parting shot to a six-member jury in the Copper Country where deer hunting is a passion.
Valerie Lantz, who has depleted her life savings defending herself against unneighborly complaints and combating a huge mess complicated by eco-friendly attorneys, is indigent and without transportation. She was finally found guilty of a crime she didn’t commit and ordered to pay court costs of $210 plus $120 for 6 months probation, a total of $330, which she’s scrambling to pay in monthly installments.
After learning that the cost of 8 hearing transcripts was $3 per page, an appeal wasn’t an option, even if she could have found an attorney in the county not snuggling up to the environmentalists. And, since you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Spirit is chained or in the house while deer, wolves, bear, coyote, and God knows what else come into her fields, barnyard, and woods. If he sets so much as one paw off Val’s land, watchfully vigilant eco-neighbors can claim she broke probation and off to jail she’ll go, leaving no one to care for her animals. But, that’s been the plan all along, hasn’t it?
joins a long list of victimized landowners from all across our nation
whose dreams have been shattered by an eco-green global army wanting
to control lives, land, and the future of mankind. That army is in
the business of building a “Global Neighborhood”. Unfortunately, they
don’t have the foggiest idea of what it means to be “neighborly”.
© 2005 Carole "C.J." Williams - All Rights Reserved
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C. J. (Carole) Williams lives in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula. She writes a weekly newspaper column, "On Target with C. J. Williams", for Ontonagon's Lake Superior Voice (www.thelakesuperiorvoice.com) and is also a guest writer for the Women Hunters Club (www.womenhunters.com), an online organization dedicated to the encouragement, education, and promotion of women in the hunting traditions.
For the past several years, C. J. has been monitoring the eco-environmental movement and the UN's Agenda 21 in her state, as well as America, which she strongly believes has done more to destroy our nation than to make it as strong and prosperous as it could and should be.
Although a trusting American public customarily looks for wisdom from the Courts, Justice has apparently lost its wits and found it in the best interest of the American public to turn its black robed back on the common man and his constitutional right to own his own home...