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Judge sentences St. John’s senior for threatening dogs with a pitchfork, saying, ‘No reasonable person would have resorted to the tactics utilized by you’

ST. JOHN’S, NL — A St. John’s judge has rejected a proposed discharge for a man who threatened his neighbor’s dogs with a pitchfork, saying she’s not satisfied he understands the trauma he inflicted on the family.

Provincial court Judge Lori Marshall said it’s unlikely that Everett Watkins, 67, will cause any further problems for the family, but the discharge he had requested is not appropriate, given the circumstances of the case and the relevant law. Instead, she took the Crown’s submission and sentenced Watkins to a suspended sentence and 12 months of probation, with orders to stay away from the neighboring family and their property and to participate in counseling for anger management, among other things. Had the Crown asked for a firearms prohibition, Marshall said, she would have granted it.

“I feel it is important to emphasize to you that no reasonable person would have resorted to the tactics utilized by you in this situation,” Marshall told Watkins in delivering her sentencing decision Friday, June 17.

“By arming yourself with potentially lethal weapons and uttering threats to harm family pets while stalking the (neighbours’) house is completely beyond the comprehension of a right-thinking person.”

His neighbor testified he had arrived home one afternoon last summer to hear from his family that their seven-month-old golden retriever had gotten outside and scared a man. Later that evening, he saw Watkins walking back and forth in front of his house, dragging a stick. The neighbor said he went outside to apologize to Watkins, who told him that he would kill the dog next time.


“By arming yourself with potentially lethal weapons and uttering threats to harm family pets while stalking the (neighbours’) house is completely beyond the comprehension of a right-thinking person.”
—Judge Lori Marshall

Another neighbor testified seeing Watkins walking back and forth in front of the dog owner’s property with a stick, stabbing at a hedge with it, and later carrying a pitchfork. He told the court he had asked Watkins what he was doing with the pitchfork, and Watkins said he was protecting himself because he had been bitten by the dog and if the dog came out again, he would kill it.

Watkins’ wife described walking with him when a dog, determined to be a Maltese owned by another neighbour, frightened her by barking and baring its teeth. Another dog, the golden retriever puppy, stuck its head out from under the hedge, barking and making a biting motion at Watkins’ pants leg. She said Watkins had directed a young girl to tell her parents about her if the dogs came out again, he would be prepared and have something to fight them with and they would be hurt.

Watkins gave the court details of hitting the Maltese, which he thought belonged to the puppy owner, knocking him unconscious with a walking stick. He said he believed a dog barking and approaching gave him the authority under the province’s Animal Health and Protection Act to defend himself by whatever means necessary.

Upon finding Watkins guilty last February, Marshall was clear: the law doesn’t work that way.

The neighbor provided a victim impact statement to the court, describing one of his dogs as a therapy dog ​​purchased for his family upon learning of his wife’s cancer diagnosis. She died in 2018.

The man described his three children as being traumatized by the events and the family’s unease living near Watkins, whom they don’t trust.

Watkins said at his sentencing hearing in May he realizes he had misinterpreted the law and understands why his neighbor would have dogs watching his house.

“I feel very, very sorry for (him). It makes me very sad,” Watkins said. “I should not have handled it the way I did.”

In sentencing Watkins, the judge noted he had not apologized to his neighbor and had drawn no connection between his actions and the impact on the family.

“Although you had shown some insight into the fact that you were wrong in the approach you took, it appears that you still do not recognize how your actions impacted (the family), particularly with respect to comments about hurting the dogs that were made to (the dog owner’s) 12-year-old child,” Marshall told him. “You also seem to believe the purpose of the dogs is to watch the house, completely missing the fact that they aren’t guard dogs but rather provide important emotional and therapeutic support to the family.”

Watkins’ continued characterization of his encounter with the dogs as a “dog attack” is “completely disproportionate” to what had happened, the judge said.

“This is concerning as it infers that you may still view yourself as a victim in this situation and that on some level you continue to be justified in your actions. Your actions on the day in question traumatized (the family), disrupted an entire neighborhood and required the police to remove you from the scene,” she said.

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