Former dog shelter owner to be sentenced for kicking protester’s car

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS –– Steve Markwell, director of the defunct Olympic Animal Sanctuary, will be sentenced Clallam County District 2 court on a third-degree malicious mischief conviction this afternoon.

Markwell was convicted last Wednesday when a six-member jury found he willfully kicked the car belonging to Maggie McDowell of Seattle, a protester of his dog sanctuary, last December, inflicting $53.46 worth of damage.

He faces a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Markwell, who had left the area, moved back to Forks in February, in large part, he said, because of the trial.

“I wouldn’t have come back to Forks if the city hadn’t pressed this charge,” Markwell said after Wednesday’s trial.

“But I came back, and now I can’t afford to leave.”

Markwell said he discussed plea bargain offers with the city, but they all included stipulations he limit the number of dogs he owned.

“This malicious mischief case had nothing to do with animals,” he said.

City Attorney Rod Fleck would not comment on the plea bargain offers.

Markwell founded Olympic Animal Sanctuary as a home for “dogs you’d rather see dead” in 2006, gaining national prominence for his efforts in such national media outlets as People magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the shelter’s dogs, he said, had been condemned to death because of their aggressive behavior by courts around the country, and he took them in as an alternative to euthanasia.

That ended after weeks of protests last December when Markwell drove off with 124 dogs packed into crates he had built in the back of a semi truck and delivered them to a New York-based animal rescue organization, Guardians of Rescue, at a makeshift shelter in the Arizona desert on Christmas Eve.

The last 18 of those dogs were adopted July 27 by a California rescue agency.

Protesters said that animals were being held in inhumane conditions at the shelter at 1021 Russell Road.

They also demanded that city officials do more about the shelter, which was within city limits.

City officials said they lacked code restrictions on the number of dogs a person could own.

Now, the Forks City Council is considering a proposed new chapter in the Forks animal control ordinance that would limit the number and type of pets a resident can own without special licenses.

“New rules are being developed clarifying what you’re supposed to do with registering animals and keeping them licensed,” Fleck said.

A draft of the new chapter was presented to the City Council last month. Possible action could be taken by November, Fleck has said.

As for prosecuting the third-degree malicious mischief charge on behalf of McDowell, who was a vocal critic of the city’s management of Markwell’s sanctuary during the protests, Fleck said he did not factor that criticism into the trial.

“It was the first time we actually met,” he said. “She’s very passionate about animals and felt the city should have been doing more and more and more.

“But the reality was there was only so much we could do.”

McDowell praised Fleck’s work on the case.

“He was a pro,” she said.

“While I think they could have done more to prevent what was going on there, the city throughout, I think, did do a really good job of keeping me safe, keeping the protests safe and keeping Steve safe during that volatile situation.”

In addition to whatever jail time and fines Markwell might face in this afternoon’s sentencing, he will have to reimburse McDowell’s repair costs and the cost of the trial.

Fleck estimated Wednesday the trial cost a minimum of $750.

Markwell was charged last Tuesday, July 29, by the state attorney general on charges he failed to register the shelter as a charity and did not provide an accounting of how he had spent the more than $300,000 in donations he collected without registration.

Markwell also faces a civil suit for breach of contract and misuse of a restricted donation filed by Sherrie Maddox of Port Angeles, one of the sanctuary’s largest donors, saying he improperly used a $50,000 donation she made in July 2012.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 03. 2014 6:02PM
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