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Police: Dog custody fight led to felony

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

January 12. 2018 9:29AM
Christopher McCall of Concord was arraigned Thursday in Hillsborough County Superior in Manchester on charges stemming from a family dispute over a dog. 



Jax the dog is at the center of a custody dispute, according to Concord police. (COURTESY)

Two weeks before a Concord woman reported that her dog had been stolen during an assault, police say she and her husband had grabbed the very same dog from relatives in Manchester who claim that Jax the pitbull is theirs.

Now Christopher McCall faces a felony charge for allegedly assaulting his sister during that Dec. 1 incident, at one point driving off with her on the hood of his vehicle.

On Thursday, McCall, 36, appeared in a Manchester courtroom, where he waived arraignment for felony reckless conduct and domestic simple assault, a misdemeanor.

He and his wife, Ashley McCall, declined to talk with a reporter after the brief appearance in Hillsborough County Superior Court North. “We really have to go,” Ashley McCall said, walking away.

Meanwhile, Concord police say they are not charging anyone in connection with a Dec. 14 incident in which Ashley McCall, a military veteran, said she had been knocked to the ground outside her apartment by a man who then grabbed Jax and fled in a vehicle.

Both Ashley and Christopher McCall posted about that incident on social media, prompting outrage and sympathy from dog lovers across New Hampshire and beyond. They did not mention that they suspected their relatives had taken the dog, and the dognapping was widely shared on social media, even prompting a crowdfunding effort.

However, Concord police soon characterized the incident as a “custody battle.”

An affidavit by a Manchester police detective, filed in Superior Court, fills in some of the details of the earlier incident involving Jax.

Detective Michael Caron said Elizabeth McCall had called Manchester police the evening of Dec. 1 to report that her brother, Christopher, had taken Jax, her brown-and-white pitbull. Christopher McCall had given her the dog two years earlier, she told police.

“It appears that both parties feel that they are the owner of the dog as each has paperwork,” the detective wrote.

On Dec. 2, John McCall, the father of Christopher and Elizabeth, was interviewed at the police station. According to the affidavit, he told police that his son and daughter-in-law had come by the house the evening before and “made small talk” before Christopher asked if he could “borrow” Jax for the weekend.

When John McCall refused, “Ashley grabbed the dog and ran outside,” according to the affidavit. “Christopher blocked Elizabeth from chasing Ashley and in doing so pushed her.”

Christopher McCall followed his wife to her Jeep Patriot and got into the driver’s seat. John McCall told police he saw Elizabeth chase after her brother, jumping on the vehicle’s hood to try to stop him from driving away, the affidavit states.

But, he told police, his son started driving at a high rate of speed “with Elizabeth still on the hood of the vehicle,” according to the affidavit. After traveling for a couple hundred feet, John McCall said, Christopher slammed on the brakes, got out of the vehicle and pulled his sister off the hood before driving off.

That led to the reckless conduct and simple assault charges against Christopher McCall. McCall turned himself in to Manchester police on Dec. 29 and was released on bail, according to Lt. Brian O’Keefe, public information officer for the department.

After the dognapping was revealed to be more of a “custody battle” over Jax, Ashley McCall on Dec. 21 responded to criticism on social media, stating that she “did not lie to anyone.” She said she did not know the man who approached her that afternoon and took Jax after throwing her to the ground. And she didn’t see the driver of the silver Ford Focus that fled with Jax inside, she wrote.

“I had suspicions as to who could be involved, but was not certain during the incident,” she said. And she said it would have been “unfair to plaster their names on social media” without proof it was their relatives who had taken Jax.

Lt. Sean Ford from Concord police said after an investigation into the Dec. 14 incident, the case was reviewed by the city prosecutor’s office, which decided not to file charges.

That does not mean that no crime occurred, Ford stressed. “It means we may not have enough information/evidence to prove the charge at trial,” he said.

Ford said Concord’s case involving the McCalls will be “suspended,” but if new information or evidence comes to light, it could be reassessed.

As for the fate of Jax the dog, Ford said, “We feel that this is better settled in a civil court, or through some sort of peaceful mediation.”

swickham@unionleader.com


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