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Dog allegedly killed by ex-corrections officer spurs planned protest at Saginaw County courthouse

SAGINAW, MI — In light of a former corrections officer charged with torturing and killing an inmate-trained dog he adopted, animal lovers are planning a protest outside the Saginaw County Courthouse.

The protest planned for the morning of Monday, May 9, coincides with the next scheduled court date of 25-year-old defendant Jacob S. Wilkinson. At 10:15 am, Wilkinson is to appear before Saginaw County District Judge Elian EH Fichtner for a pre-examination conference.

The hearing will be held remotely, meaning Wilkinson will appear before the judge via Zoom rather than in person.

Wilkinson on April 25 was arraigned on one count of second-degree torturing or killing an animal, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The charge stems from Wilkinson allegedly killing a brown pit bull mix named Habs in September. At the time, Wilkinson worked as a corrections officer at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Tittabawassee Township, where Habs had been trained by prisoners.

Habs, previously named Randy, came from the Humane Society of Macomb before arriving in Saginaw County.

Ken Kempkens, director of the Humane Society of Macomb, is organizing the protest and said he and fellow attendees plan on arriving between 9 and 9:30 am

“We mainly want to call attention to the proceedings going on,” Kempkins said. “Our goal for that day is to try to get the judge to move the case from District Court to the Circuit Court level.”

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson holds a photo of Jacob S. Wilkinson during an April 27 Facebook live event.

So far, about nine people plan on participating, Kempkens said.

“Anybody who wants to come up there with us is absolutely welcome,” he said. “I know people up there are pretty passionate about what’s going up there. People are passionate about their animals. When something like this happens, we’re going to stay right on top of this.”

Habs had been trained by inmates at the Saginaw prison through Pinckney-based Blue Star Service Dogs. Blue Star’s program sees inmates within the prison’s veterans block live with and train dogs for four to six months.

Though Habs did not meet the requirements to be a veteran’s service dog, he completed basic obedience training before being adopted by Wilkinson.

“He didn’t pass the service dog test because he was too friendly,” Kempkens said. “This dog was so quick to learn. He was less than a year old when he left us.”

Saginaw County Road Commission personnel on March 24 found Habs’ carcass in a ditch near the intersection of West Freeland and Hackett roads in Tittabawassee Township. Animal Control officers retrieved the body, finding it had duct tape around its muzzle and both sets of legs and had been shot three times.

A necropsy — the animal equivalent to an autopsy — was performed on Habs’ body, during which a microchip was discovered. That microchip led investigators to Wilkinson, who by then was working at the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson addressed the matter in a Facebook live video on April 27.

“We’re gonna hold our own accountable. Nobody is exempt from that,” Swanson said, holding a driver’s license identification photo of Wilkinson.

The sheriff said Wilkinson claimed he had been trimming Habs’ nails when the dog nipped at him.

Jacob Wilkinson arraignment

Jacob S. Wilkinson, bottom, on April 26 appears via Zoom for his arraignment on a seven-year felony charge of second-degree torturing or killing an animal. Also shown are Saginaw County District Judge David D. Hoffman and defense attorney Michael Beer.

“That guy thought … ‘You’re not gonna do that,’ so he duct taped the rear legs of the dog. Duct taped the front legs of the dog. Duct taped the muzzle,” Swanson said. “And because he lives in Saginaw, he dumped it in Tittabawassee Township. Before he dumped it and left, he shot it three times and killed it.”

Swanson expressed doubt that Habs had nipped at Wilkinson

“A service dog that has been trained by people… to help counsel and work through issues that is completely innocent, that dog nipped at him?” he rhetorically asked.

Wilkinson worked for the Michigan Department of Corrections from May 2, 2021, through Jan. 27. In December 2021, he applied for a job with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, months after he had allegedly killed Habs.

“He never disclosed in his interview that he shot and killed and tortured a dog,” Swanson said. “He never disclosed it to a psychologist when he was sent for a psychological interview before his hiring of him.”

Swanson hired Wilkinson on Jan. 31. He said Wilkinson graduated with honors from Saginaw Valley State University with a minor in psychology, was an EMT and combat medic, and is in the National Guard.

“He’s got a stellar background but never, never, did we know or even think he’d torture an animal like that,” Swanson said. Wilkinson only worked in the county jail as a corrections officer and was not a certified road deputy, he added.

The sheriff learned of Wilkinson’s alleged conduct through “the good work of our Saginaw County friends,” giving a personal shout-out to Saginaw County Animal Care & Control Director Bonnie Kanicki. Wilkinson was working a shift in the jail when investigators came to speak with him in April.

“When the detectives came down, we brought him down and without getting into all the details of the case, he confessed to everything,” Swanson said. “He was immediately terminated.

“Some people talk about the blue line,” he continued. “There ain’t no blue line when it comes to right and wrong.”

Kempkens stressed there are always alternatives to killing a pet, such as surrendering it to an animal shelter.

“This guy had options,” he said. “He could have called us and we would have taken Habs back in a second.”

Wilkinson is represented by Flint attorney Michael T. Beer. MLive has been unable to reach Beer for comment on the case.

Readmore:

Ex-corrections officer, deputy charged with killing dog trained by prisoners

Prison inmates training dogs to help adoption rates in Bay County

Dog trained by inmates at Saginaw prison finds new home with Mobile Medical Response

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