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Leash law crusader, despite jail term, stands firm on dog control

Leash law crusader, despite jail term, stands firm on dog control

Mike Harvey says he was just walking the dogs.

Dean Codo says he was doing it in the wrong place.

In the confrontation that followed, Harvey got shoved, and Codo got arrested.

And the dispute between the two Harding District residents might not be over yet. Harvey, who pressed charges and recently won a conviction in the case, says Codo has been badgering neighborhood dog owners for years, and he’s worried there could be more serious altercations in the future.

But an unrepentant Codo, who just completed his 10-day jail sentence, says law-breaking dog owners are the real problem — and he plans to go right on confronting them.

Schoolyard showdown

The episode unfolded on the evening of Nov. 13. Friends from California had just arrived for a visit with Harvey and his wife, Joni Quarnstrom. After several hours in the car, the couple’s Labrador retriever was in need of a walk, so Harvey and Quarnstrom suggested a trip to nearby Harding School. They brought their own border collie along.

“We walked them over on the leash, and there was nobody in the schoolyard so we took them off,” Harvey said in an interview last week. “We knew it was technically illegal, but we thought it would be OK to do that.”

The two couples chatted amiably while their dogs romped on Harding’s grassy fields. Then someone started yelling at them. Harvey instantly knew who it was.

“We’ve had occurrences with Mr. Codo in the past,” he said. “He’s kind of a neighborhood character.”

According to the police report in the case, Harvey and other witnesses told officers Codo swore repeatedly as he shouted that dogs were not allowed on school grounds and they should leave. He also yelled that he was going to call the police.

Harvey says he tried to leave, but Codo met him at the gate and blocked his way.

“He put his hands on my chest and said, ‘No, you can’t go, not until the police get here,’” Harvey said.

“I said, ‘Look, you don’t want to do this,’ but he kept raging. ... He must have pushed me about half a dozen times.”

Finally, according to Harvey, Codo gave him a harder shove and knocked his glasses off. At that point, Harvey says, Codo seemed to come to his senses and left in his car.

Codo tells it differently.

“He came at me,” Codo told the Gazette-Times. “I pushed him back, open-handed. He came at me again, and I pushed him back, open-handed.”

Trial by jury

In court, it was Harvey’s version of events that prevailed. In a six-person jury trial on July 16, Codo was convicted of attempted coercion for preventing Harvey from leaving the school grounds, harassment for shoving him, and two counts of disorderly conduct. He was found not guilty of attempted assault.

In a sentencing hearing on Aug. 1, Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams ordered Codo to serve 10 days in the county jail, followed by 18 months of supervised probation. He also was fined $1,000 and ordered to take anger management classes.

As Codo correctly points out, dogs are not allowed on the grounds at any Corvallis school. Harvey was not cited by police for letting dogs run loose in the schoolyard last November, a fact that became an issue in Codo’s trial.

But Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Christian Stringer, who prosecuted the case, said Codo’s response was far out of proportion to the offense.

“A dog off-leash — that’s a ticket, perhaps. It’s not the end of the world,” Stringer said. “My argument to the jury was that if someone’s speeding in your neighborhood, you don’t have the right to shoot their tires out.”

He also said it’s not the first time that Codo has been in trouble with the law for accosting a dog owner. According to Stringer, Codo was indicted in a previous incident but avoided trial by agreeing to go into a diversion program.

Not backing down

For his part, Codo is unapologetic about confronting Harvey last November.

“I stand by my actions,” he said.

In fact, he’s been waging a one-man crusade for years now against what he sees as overly entitled Corvallis dog owners who are aided and abetted by lax enforcement of local dog ordinances.

“I call them doggy bullies,” he said. “They care more about their dogs than they do about their fellow citizens.”

Codo, 52, is a physically active man who enjoys bicycling and canoeing. But he’s also disabled — he uses a prosthesis in place of a leg that was amputated below the knee — and says he shouldn’t have to worry about being molested by dogs running loose in places where they are supposed to be on a leash or not allowed at all.

He no longer spends time in city parks, which he says are all overrun by unrestrained dogs, even though many still require the use of leashes. Instead, he goes to local schoolyards, which are supposed to be dog-free, and the Crystal Lake boat ramp, a leash-only site where he launches his canoe. But even there, he runs into dog owners who seem oblivious to the rules.

“There is no place I can go now where I will not be threatened by a loose dog, and I’m frustrated,” Codo said.

“I’ve been bitten; I’ve been jumped on; I’ve been chased, and I’ve been growled at. It’s not the dogs’ fault; it’s their owners. Those people’s behavior is so outrageous, (but) they will not be told what to do.”

He’s taken his complaints to public bodies such as the Parks, Natural Areas and Recreation Board. He’s asked the Corvallis Police Department to enforce the leash laws more aggressively. And when he sees someone violating the dog ordinances, he confronts them about it.

“People don’t understand why I’m motivated to do this — they think it’s a relatively minor incident,” he lamented. “They seem to think my insistence is extreme and unwarranted.”

Nevertheless, Codo insists, he’s not about to stop now.

“By God, I am not giving up,” he said. “I am determined to see that the law is enforced.”

But for people like Harvey and his neighbors — about a dozen of whom attended Codo’s trial and sentencing — that level of intensity is troubling.

“Our history with Dean goes back several years. Many of the neighbors have had run-ins with him. He tends to be pretty aggressive,” Harvey said.

“When you start having someone put their hands on people and push people around, that’s going too far in a civilized society, I think.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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