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Trooper opens fire near Mason County home, kills family dog

A trooper shot and killed Willy Pete, a 6-year-old beagle/Basset hound mix, while searching near the dog’s owner’s home.

A Mason County woman is calling on authorities to change their practices after an officer fired shots toward her home and killed her dog during a search for a criminal suspect.

Ginger Sweat, 32, was inside her Johns Creek area home that she shares with her husband and two children early Tuesday afternoon when she saw a car speeding down the normally quiet road. Thinking it was her neighbors at first, she sent a text message to her husband asking him to tell the neighbors to drive slower.

But when she saw two police cruisers speeding down the road, she called her husband to ask him if he knew what was going on. Her husband then called the local State Police detachment to let officers know that his wife and children — aged 18 months and 7 months —were in the home.

“The first time he called they blew him off,” she said. “The second time he called they said they would let the officers know.”

He told her the officers were looking for Jonathan Jeffers, who reportedly threatened his wife early Tuesday morning, fired a shot at an officer responding to the calls for help and fled in a vehicle.

Moments later she saw eight more police vehicles go by and a helicopter overhead.

“That’s more traffic than we get here in a year,” Sweat said.

She was putting one of the children down for a nap about 1 p.m. when she glanced out the window and saw eight officers in tactical gear coming out of the woods near her home. One had a barking police dog on a leash, she said.

That piqued the interest of her dog, who had been lying on the porch that afternoon.

Her 6-year-old Basset hound/beagle mix, Willy Pete, left the porch and made his way toward the troopers. The dog, she said, suffered from arthritis in his back legs and was not aggressive. Her other dog went into the house.

Sweat said she was still inside when she saw the trooper raise a weapon at her dog.

“I ran out my door, jumping up and down screaming ‘don’t shoot my dog, he won’t bite, just let me get him in the house,’” she said.

She said the officer fired one shot toward the dog but missed. She said Willy Pete turned tail and was running back toward her.

“He ran towards me with desperation in his eyes,” she said. “They fired again in my direction. In the direction of my home where my kids were.”

She said three more shots were fired, a total of four shots. Willy Pete, she said, was hit three times. The dog went to the back of the mobile home. Sweat said she found the dog near the air conditioning unit.

“I watched my dog struggle and then die,” she said. “I collapsed in a puddle in the floor, screaming and crying.

“I watched that dog born and I watched him die.”

She said the troopers came to her home and one of the officers told her “Ma’am we’re dog people, too, but we couldn’t let them fight,” she recalled him saying. “He said, ‘I’m sorry. Where’s your shovel, I’ll bury him.’”

She said her dog wasn’t vicious and that she wouldn’t have allowed a vicious dog around her children.

Sweat is upset about the death of her dog. But more than that, she is angry she wasn’t told police were searching near her home for a potentially violent criminal, and that a weapon was fired in her direction and near the house where her children were sleeping.

“They shot toward my home with me standing there,” she said. “If they were here why didn’t they notify us? I would have put my dogs up in my home. I want them to change their policies.”

Lt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman, said troopers sometimes will inform the public in similar situations with a media burst or by going door to door, but that it was his understanding there was no time for that in Tuesday’s case.

Baylous said officers still are searching for Jeffers. He declined comment on the shooting of the dog.

“It’s counterproductive and it’s only serving to fan the tension,” Baylous said. “We have had several people responding to us in a very irrational way and we feel that it’s counterproductive to comment further.”

A comment posted by the official State Police Facebook page described the incident as “the unfortunate shooting of the aggressive dog.”

Another Facebook page, Justice for Willy Pete, had attracted more than 3,000 likes by Thursday afternoon.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.

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