On Monday, Jamestown police alerted the public to a crime that was almost too horrific to believe: A pit bull had been found hanging from its collar in a tree in a partly wooded section of the city, and it had been there for several months.
But only days after bringing the crime to the public's attention, police arrested the person they said was responsible.
Robert S. Overton Jr., 47, a self-described animal lover who in an interview admitted to killing his dog because he said it had become aggressive toward him and his children, faces a felony charge for the crime.
"I've seen some horrible things happen, but anything to do with animals, this is the absolute worst I've ever seen," said Jamestown Police Capt. Robert Samuelson, with 24 years on the force. "I've never seen anybody hang a dog to death. That's barbaric. Who does that?"
After meeting with police Wednesday afternoon, Overton turned himself in Thursday afternoon in City Hall. He was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals under the state Agriculture and Markets Law, accused of intentionally killing the family dog by hanging it. He pleaded not guilty before City Judge Frederick A. Larson and is being held in the Chautauqua County Jail, facing a preliminary hearing in court next week.
If convicted, Overton faces a sentence ranging from probation to two years in prison.
More than 100 tips from the community and social media posts since Monday evening led police to Overton following the discovery of the animal's remains.
A passerby walking Monday night in Overton's old neighborhood noticed the decomposing dog hanging from a tree in a vacant, partly wooded lot, about 15 feet from the edge of Hallock Street on the city's west side. A police investigation indicated Overton killed his own dog, which would have been 2 years old in May, by hanging it in late November or early December, Samuelson said.
The dog had apparently gone unnoticed for months, blending in with the color of the trees in the cold winter months.
"It was sort of the perfect storm of events," Samuelson said Thursday in an interview with The News.
Samuelson said outreach to police from the public allowed investigators to solve the case.
"Once we were able to determine that Overton was the owner, then it became simple," he said. "Without those tips, this case would not have been solved."
In a detailed interview Wednesday night with WNYNewsNow – after police spoke with him earlier that day – Overton said he killed the dog to protect his children. He said the animal became aggressive and bit humans three times, twice biting him and once his daughter.
Overton said he hanged the dog in the beginning of the winter after a third incident.
“It’s about me and my kids, and that dog, and I chose my kids,” he said.
“In the heat of the moment, I did what I had to do as a parent,” Overton told the interviewer.
Overton's Facebook page features pictures of children, other pit bulls and guns. Samuelson said police do not think Overton has other dogs in his home.
Overton told the interviewer he found dogs were to be therapeutic, which helped him following his release from incarceration. According to state records, Overton has been convicted of felony arson and burglary counts in Chautauqua County.
Overton said in the interview that he did not think about calling the humane society when the dog allegedly attacked him for the third time. He also said the dog had recently been vomiting and he thought the animal was sick. Samuelson said if Overton thinks that's an excuse for what he did, he's mistaken.
"There are many more humane options available that could have been handled through a veterinarian," Samuelson said. "Hanging a dog to death is extremely inhumane and cruel and absolutely disgusting."
The owner of Pick of the Litter animal shelter in nearby Falconer said she was heartbroken by news of the hanged dog.
"This is horrible. There's no reason for this to have happened," said Patricia H. Bush, owner of the shelter that has a contract with the city for stray dogs that are picked up. "My heart just fell. I just can't believe that somebody would go to this extent to do something like this. They could have called the humane society, the local police department.
"There are options. I don't know why he would go to this length. If people move or can't handle a dog, I do take them. He could have called me. We could have taken care of the dog. People could have helped. It's just sad. It's just really sad."
Jamestown police have fielded numerous calls about people wanting to donate money toward a reward for information on a suspect. The department suggests that anyone wanting to make donations should instead, make donations to their local SPCA or to the Pick of the Litter animal shelter.