Metro-East News

O'Fallon woman says she was wrongfully arrested over rescue dog

Surveillance footage shows O’Fallon police officers arresting woman

Kathryn Mister, who runs a non-profit animal foster program, is arrested at her O'Fallon home on Dec. 31, 2017 for a dog ownership dispute. Mister said she feels the arrest was forceful and unwarranted.
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Kathryn Mister, who runs a non-profit animal foster program, is arrested at her O'Fallon home on Dec. 31, 2017 for a dog ownership dispute. Mister said she feels the arrest was forceful and unwarranted.

An O'Fallon woman says she is being fined by the city after her pig escaped from her yard for the second time within two days. And she says O'Fallon police wrongfully arrested her in December during a dispute about a dog she rescued.

The first time the piglet escaped, it led O'Fallon Police on a 45-minute chase on April 9. The next day, the piglet escaped again from his confines again.

Kathryn Mister runs the non-profit animal foster program Once Upon A Prayer at 970 Old Vincennes Trail. On the morning of April 9, a piglet, who Mister said is named Chubs, escaped from its cage. Mister said she, her husband and volunteers from other rescue organizations attempted to catch him.

The O'Fallon Police were called and joined the chase. After 45 minutes, they managed to trap the animal, which they called Porkchop, near O'Fallon's YMCA.

Mister said she was fined by the city for the pig's second escape. She has a court date for later this month.

"I'm a rescue; I don't have a lot of money for this," Mister said. "Their justification was for using resources getting him, but I pay taxes, so I'm paying for those resources. I just feel like when you know it's a rescue (organization), work with me a little bit."

O'Fallon Police Capt. James Cavins said per O'Fallon's city ordinance, police issue a violation for repeat offenses of an animal escaping its owner's property.

"The owner of an animal will get cited a city ordinance violation, which is just a petty offense. It's no worse than a traffic ticket," Cavins said. "Tuesday we got another call for the pig running around the back way of the (YMCA) and through the parking lot."

Cavins said Mister was issued a warning on Monday for the pig's escape and, per protocol, she was issued a violation Tuesday when the pig escaped again.

"We apply the same protocol whether it's a dog, a pig or a horse," Cavins said.

According to O'Fallon's city ordinance, the fine for an "animal at large" is not specified but must not exceed $750.

Mister, however, said this is not the first time she has taken issue with O'Fallon Police.

Surveillance video from Mister's house on Dec. 31 shows about an hour-long interaction between Mister and O'Fallon Police that ended in Mister's arrest. Mister says the arresting officer acted inappropriately and wrongfully arrested her.

Police Chief Eric Van Hook said he cannot comment fully on the pending case, but he believes his officers "do an excellent job of gathering all the facts, evaluating them and applying discretion appropriately."

He added, "I stand behind the officers' decisions and think they used a great amount of restraint in the situation."

On New Year's Eve, Mister said, O'Fallon Police Sgt. Eric Buck came to her house after getting a call that Mister was keeping a dog that did not belong to her. Mister said she was taking care of a husky named Frost that had been shot with a BB gun and was found in a dump.

Mister, who regularly rescues animals, said she was told the people who were claiming Frost belonged to them had given her up months before, and Mister was asked to find a new home for the dog. Mister said she received dozens of calls from people claiming the dog belonged to them but had no way of knowing who the actual owner was.

According to a police report filed by Buck, Buck went to Mister's home Dec. 31 after receiving a complaint from two people who said their dog was wrongfully in the custody of Once Upon a Prayer, Mister's rescue.

According to the report, the people provided registration paperwork from 2014 and veterinary bills for the dog, which they called Frost.

Mister's footage showed Buck pulling up to Mister's house at about 8:15 p.m. and Mister invited him inside. Buck's police report said he and Mister began discussing the ownership of the dog and he explained "that it was my opinion she was in the possession of . . . lost/misplaced property" and needed to return the dog.

Mister refused to give up the dog, and Buck told her that she could either give up the dog or be arrested. Mister called her attorney and Buck requested another officer to come to the scene at 8:45 p.m.

"I told him it 'was a civil matter, this is overstepping what you're supposed to be doing,'" she said. "He said he can do whatever he wants."

Mister tried to call her attorney again and, per the arrest report, Buck "grasped her left wrist and removed (the) handcuffs." Surveillance footage shows Buck putting an arm behind Mister's back to handcuff her.

As Buck began to arrest her, Mister said she would let the dog go.

"I had kids waiting on me, I didn't want to put them through this, so I said he could take the dog," she said.

In the arrest report, Buck wrote, "I advised her it was now too late and she was going to be arrested. I considered (Mister's) willingness to relinquish the dog at this time and therefore stopped my attempted arrest."

Buck stepped back from Mister and asked for a leash for the dog, which Mister refused to give him because she "didn't want to help him take this dog that didn't belong to those people."

At 8:54 p.m., surveillance footage shows another officer going to the house, and Mister let him in. The officers and Mister stood in the kitchen talking for about 7 minutes.

Buck asked the second officer, identified as Officer T. Bates, to get a dog leash from the police department, which is about half a mile from Mister's home. At 9:02 p.m., Bates is seen walking outside and talking on the phone.

In Buck's report, he said about "20 seconds after Officer Bates departed, (Mister) advised that she did not want me in her house anymore. I advised (Mister) that she would have to put up with me for a few more minutes."

In the video, Mister started talking on the phone on the opposite side of the kitchen from Buck. She said she had asked Buck to leave multiple times and when he refused, she called 911.

"I didn't know what else to do. He clearly wanted me arrested," she said. "The only thing I could do to get him out of my house was to call 911. He clearly wasn't leaving. I wanted to return this dog to the rightful owner."

At 9:04 p.m., footage shows Buck suddenly walking across the kitchen, where he began to put Mister under arrest for "making a false 911 call," the report said.

Mister said the officer "put his hands on me" and "jerked me" as he put handcuffs on her. In the report, Buck said Mister tensed her arms, attempted to pull away from him and physically resisting the arrest.

"He had the cuffs so tight, he refused to loosen it even when I told him they were too tight," Mister said. "After, I had to go to the ER because I had tingling down my hands because they were so tight. Three hours later, I could still see the indentations."

Buck called for assistance from Bates, who walked back in the house and assisted in arresting Mister. Buck took Mister outside into the patrol car while Bates took Frost to his car using a leash from the house.

Mister said she spent an hour in jail before posting the $150 for release on bond. She was charged with resisting a peace officer and disorderly conduct.

Mister said besides having to attend court and pay fines, she had to attend physical therapy because Buck "jerked so hard." She said she is looking into filing a harassment complaint against O'Fallon Police.

"As soon as I told him he had no grounds to take the dog, at that point he was like, 'I'm going to show you I can do whatever I want,'" she said.

Per the police report, O'Fallon Police returned Frost to the people who claimed she was their dog.

Mister said she still worries about what happened to Frost.

"She wasn't chipped, she wasn't up-to-date on vaccines, she wasn't fixed. I don't know where she is now," Mister said.

Mister's bench trial for the charges is tentatively set for Wednesday.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6