Jo Ann Dodea just wanted to have some chickens to help her get over the death of her 25-year-old daughter in March, and to help keep the bugs and insects out of an organic garden at her Rifle home.
Instead, Dodea found herself arrested, allegedly by five Rifle police officers, for having the chickens in an multi-family zoned area. That is against the city code, according to a search warrant executed on May 31. The city code currently allows two chickens or ducks to be kept by single-family residences. Rifle City Council was scheduled to consider a new animal control ordinance at their June 6 meeting that would change the number of chickens or ducks allowed to ten, but only for single family residences.
Dodea, 55, is a retired police officer who worked for more than 20 years for the Carbondale Police Department and Pitkin County Sheriffs Department.
She called her experience "totally ridiculous" and "an unbelievable true-crime story about keeping chickens."
A hand-painted cardboard sign nailed to a post in her front yard at 425 W. Third St. read "Rifle's Chicken Police are hard core." A small plastic duck was hung from the sign, too.
A police department report states the first contact with Dodea was on May 21, when a citizen complained about 22 chickens and several geese on her property.
The report states that when officers arrived May 31 at approximately 10 p.m., they attempted to serve a citation to Dodea. She refused to acknowledge the promise to appear in court and was arrested.
Dodea's boyfriend, Anthony Torres, 52, did sign a similar citation for five violations of the city code regarding housing prohibited animals and was not arrested.
Dodea said she was awakened late Thursday night, May 31 by officers to serve her a ticket with a $150 fine. When she refused to sign the ticket, Dodea was arrested. She claimed five officers were present, but police Lt. J.R. Boulton said he could not confirm that many officers were present.
"Whenever you have a search warrant involved, you want some back up," Boulton said. "And then if you have a totally uncooperative individual, you definitely want help. But I don't believe there were five officers there."
"I was just flabbergasted," Dodea said. "I'd never heard of something like that. But I said OK, take me to jail. I was in my pajamas and barefoot and they wouldn't let me go back to my room to get my shoes or put some clothes on."
Torres said he told the officers several times that Dodea was a retired police officer.
"But they didn't seem to believe it," he said. "It was all kind of Mickey Mouse. I thought we were in Anaheim," the home of Disneyland.
After a brief stay at the police department, Dodea said Pena told her she could go home. When she couldn't reach Torres to come get her, she walked back home, Dodea said.
At the time of her arrest, Dodea said there were no chickens on her property. She had moved them out of town when directed by Community Service Officer Brittany Koley. Police took several photos of a chicken coop and other evidence but did not remove the five geese.
However, Dodea said when she visited the chickens in their new home, she saw they had very little oversight or protection from predators, so she brought them back to her Rifle home. They were present in her yard on Tuesday, June 5, along with the geese.
Dodea said she was most upset with police Sergeant Diego Pena, who she said told the officers via radio to arrest her and then spoke harshly to her at times while she was briefly held at the police department. Dodea filed a formal complaint with the police department on June 4 over the incident.
"I got chickens as therapy after my daughter's death," she said. "They're like pets in a lot of ways. They get attached to you. And they're great at keeping the insects out of gardens. We want to try to live healthy."
Dodea and Torres both claimed they talked to city employees, including City Manger John Hier, and were told at least twice it was legal to keep chickens, since their house is next to the Busy Bee Floral business and has only one other neighbor.
Officer Justin Macklin stated in an affidavit for the search warrant, signed by municipal court Judge Victor Zerbi, that Dodea admitted she had 22 chickens on May 21, and that she was "willing to fight" over the dispute.
On May 23, Koley visited with Dodea again and told her to get rid of the chickens by noon on Wednesday, May 30 or be issued a ticket. Dodea allegedly responded that the city "is getting sued" and vowed to keep the chickens, adding "I was starting a war," Koley wrote in the affidavit. Dodea added she would not pay any tickets or fines and "is not going to commit to this bullying."
On May 25, Koley spoke with Hier, who reportedly told her he advised Dodea she must get rid of the chickens. Dodea said Hier told her to talk with the city planning and building department about a possible variance to see if she could keep the chickens, Koley wrote.
Later that day, Koley spoke with Dodea by phone again and was told "I got to do what I got to do and she will see me in court and she has never lost a case in court," the affidavit said.
On May 30, Koley went to Dodea's home to issue the ticket. When Koley asked her if she got rid of the chickens, Dodea reportedly responded "it was for her to know and me to find out and not to come back into her yard without a warrant," Koley wrote.
Dodea's first municipal court appearance over the dispute is scheduled for June 20.
"I fully intend to fight it," Dodea said. "It's the principal of the thing. I'm not incompetent, I'm not stupid but I don't want to be bullied. And I resent being told I have one week to get rid of my pets."