Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Charles Wesley Cole will stand trial – again – for the alleged felony mistreatment of his dog, known variously as Jackpot, Mr. Nobody and Mr. Know Buddy (the name on his local veterinary records).
On the recommendation of the Probation Dept., Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney on Thursday rejected a plea bargain deal proposed by the District Attorney’s Office which would have allowed Cole the return of his dog, which has since been re-homed.
That restores the felony charge against Cole over a Jan. 14 incident in which he allegedly abused his dog in downtown Arcata by picking it up and dropping it, and overburdening it with heavy objects in its dog backpack. The original trial in July ended in a hung jury.
Also withdrawn was Cole’s “guilty” plea to the cruelty charge, which was part of the plea agreement. A “not guilty” plea was re-entered, setting up a retrial for Dec. 12. That trial will include a second, separate case involving charges of battery and vandalism over an incident which occurred at the North Coast Co-op.
Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Schaffer said Cole was in the checkout line at the Co-op one day when someone asked him to stop beating his dog. Cole allegedly threw coffee at the cashier, then went out in the parking lot and broke a window on a Co-op van.
Cole said the Co-op incident was not as alleged. He says he “gently yanked on my dog’s collar,” which led to an “assault” by the woman, a person he believes is in league with the animal rights activists. “She’s screaming ‘F this’ and ‘F that’,” Cole said. In the heat of the moment, he says, “I reached for my coffee and knocked it over on the counter.”
A contingent of perhaps two dozen supporters of Jackpot/Mr. Know Buddy turned up Thursday for what had been set as a sentencing hearing. Their interest is primarily preventing a return of the dog to Cole’s custody, where they believe it will again be abused. Some also feel Cole has earned punishment for the alleged abuse. The recent incident is just one of many acts of violence against animals that witnesses say they have observed Cole committing over the years.
Schaffer said Feeney “may or may not” allow testimony on the previous incidents. She said she would accept testimonials from witnesses about previous acts of cruelty by Cole, but to be useful, that they would have to include specifics.
Kim Class, director of the Companion Animal Foundation (CAF), said she was pleased with the turn of events, since it could open up the opportunity for witnesses of Cole’s alleged cruelty who weren’t involved in the first trial to testify this time – possibly in disguise out of fear of retaliation.
“We were disappointed last time,” Class said. “Some people were afraid to speak.”
For his part, Cole had been dead-set on rejecting the plea deal anyway. He expressed a wish to go to jail, and hoped to get the court to set up a special cell for him that would include a yard or space where he could have his dog back. There he would demonstrate that he is capable of relating gently to animals, and instruct law enforcement in his "discipline techniques." But that was not to be.
Cole, who lives in a yard off a downtown Arcata alley, believes he is the victim of multiple interlocking conspiracies involving the animal rights community, businesses, the police, the news media and various individuals who have wronged him in the past. He claims he gets frequent threats on his life from passersby, some acting as agents of his supposed nemeses in the animal rights movement. A nearby businesswoman, he claims, maintains a calendar on which various forms of abuse are scheduled. He has taken cell phone photos of individuals he claims are local animal rights activists standing around in the lot adjacent to his yard. He says they’ve harassed him and blocked his egress.
Cole's fear has been further fueled by recent media reports. A Lost Coast Outpost video piece on Cole and his dog by Sierra Jenkins has been heavily and anonymously commented on by readers, particularly in its no-holds-barred “Thunderdome” comment section. Some commenters questioned the legal process, others expressed hope for the animal’s well-being, and many urged that Cole no longer be allowed to have animals. But a number of others suggested various forms of torture and mayhem be used against him, or even that he be executed.
“That’s why LoCo has a Thunderdome choice,” wrote “Kindly Mongoose.” “So we can talk about this steenking [sic] no good animal abuser and how he should have his scrotum surgically removed and replaced with a pit bull.”
“Let’s treat Mr. Cole the same way he treated his dog,” said “reo6205”. “Sounds fair to me.”
“Let him get his dog back,” said “mainstack.” “Just so I can justify picking him up by his neck, throwing him to the ground and dragging him across the pavement by his beard.”
“SCUM!! I say KILL him and feed the maggots to the roaches,” wrote “Cia Poza.”
A follow-up LoCo piece about the Thursday court hearing is generating similar comments.
"I say we put a 50-lb pack on him, fit him with a gas mask, make him go up and down H Street on a hot day with no water and when he falls down we drag him across the pavement and kick him when he whimpers," wrote a commenter named "please educate your kids."
Participants in the “Stop Animal Abuse in Humboldt” Facebook page, a rallying center for those interested in the Cole case, strongly disavowed the harsh comments, stating that none of the “real” animal welfare activists would make any statements advocating violence of any kind.
At least two people deeply involved in animal rescue locally have gone the other way – offering Cole compassion and understanding, and doing so personally. But to little apparent avail, at least so far.
Jan Carr, who owns a large parcel of land in north Arcata, has used it as an unofficial sanctuary for animals she’s rescued – up to 50 at a time – that she calls "Carr Critter Rescue." Thursday, prior to the sentencing hearing, she visited Cole and heard him out. Wearing a star-shaped private detective badge, he told her – tearfully at times – of the forces arrayed against him, and of his deep love for his animals.
Carr’s central interest is in ensuring Jackpot/Mr. Know Buddy remains safe and free from abuse. She’s offered to pay all of the thousands of dollars in outstanding lodging and veterinary fees if Cole will legally relinquish the animal to her.
“He'd have to sign him over to me, and he’d have to believe I will make certain Mr. Nobody leads a healthy, happy life,” Carr said. “ I give him my word. I will see the fees are paid.”
Another hands-on animal savior, Shannon Miranda of Miranda’s Rescue, also attempted outreach to Cole, but with no success. “He just wanted the dog,” Miranda said. “There’s no rational thinking. It’s like talking to a fence post. It gets to a point where you almost feel crazy yourself.”
Based on his conversation and accounts of Cole’s actions, Miranda believes Cole is unwell, and isn’t capable of owning animals. He opposes returning Jackpot/Mr. Know Buddy to him. But he doesn’t question Cole’s love for the dog.
“You’re talking about someone who is mentally ill and doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Miranda said. “What he’s saying is real, in his mind.”
An online petition seeking to prevent the dog’s return to Cole continues to gather signatures.