Steamboat officer fined after pleading no contest to shooting man’s dog
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs Police Department officer was fined Wednesday after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor animal abuse charge at the Routt Combined Court.
Judge James Garrecht ordered the officer, Robert Sadowski, to pay $126 for shooting and killing Eaton Nilsson’s dog in October, according to court documents. The Police Department is conducting a separate, internal investigation into Sadowski’s conduct, according to Chief Cory Christensen. Sadowski has been with local department since 2017.
The incident dates back to Oct. 3, when Sadowski was hunting for beavers on a property along Routt County Road 20, about 8 miles south of Steamboat, according to a report from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
Sadowski, who was off duty at the time, claimed he could see an animal moving in the grass and he thought it was the glint of a beaver tail, the report said. Waist-high vegetation did not allow him to get a clear shot of his target.
“As soon as the animal poked its head out of the tall grass, Sadowski took the shot,” the report stated.
The animal was not a beaver, but Nilsson’s 14-year-old female black Labrador named Zora.
Deputies found the dog’s body with a bullet hole through its head, according to the report. They charged Sadowski with cruelty to animals, which is a misdemeanor.
County ordinances state that it is illegal to “needlessly shoot at, wound, capture, poison, trap, or in any other manner needlessly molest, inure or kill any animal.” The first offense for a cruelty to animal charge carries a maximum fine of $100.
Nilsson said he found Sadowski’s punishment too lenient. Ahead of the internal investigation, he is calling for Sadowski to be removed from the Police Department. Nilsson sees the officer’s actions as proof he is not fit to safely operate a firearm in the name of the law.
“It’s not just a dog. It’s an egregious lack of training,” Nilsson said. “I have a genuine concern for community safety.”
After shooting his dog, Nilsson said he approached Sadowski. He asked the officer, “Next time, is it going to be a civilian?”
Nilsson emphasized he does not “hate” Sadowski for what he did and is not out for revenge. Amid a national prevalence of police misconduct, he believes law enforcement personnel need to be held to a higher standard.
“In this climate, I think we are expecting more from our police, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Nilsson said.
The Police Department’s internal investigation will determine whether or not Sadowski violated any of the department’s policies, according to Chief Christensen.
The chief explained the investigative process, stating that a sergeant will look into the incident and present findings to Sadowski’s supervisor. That supervisor will then review the investigation and decide what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken. That recommendation will go to a commander, who also reviews the case. The commander presents recommendations to Christensen, who makes the final decision.
Christensen was unsure how long the investigation would take but said the Police Department is taking the matter seriously.
“We are compassionate to the fact that (Nilsson’s) beloved animal is gone. We don’t take that lightly,” he said.
All officers receive regular firearm training, which ranges from marksmanship practice to evaluating when to use deadly force, Christensen said. These trainings meet state standards, he said, giving him confidence in officers’ ability to act responsibly in the field.
“I would hesitate to correlate this event directly to a fear for public safety,” Christensen said, emphasizing he does not yet have the evidence or information necessary to speculate on the matter.
If the Police Department does not remove Sadowski, Nilsson said he would consider filing a civil lawsuit. He hopes the situation does not come to that.
“I just want this to be over,” he said, adding that his highest priority is ensuring the safety of the community.