Two cops killed in one case, arson suspect at large in another
FORT WORTH, Texas; NORWICH, Connecticut––Six dog-related fatalities disclosed to news media within 24 hours in mid-May 2021, at least three and possibly all of them involving pit bulls, each raise far more questions than there are answers available.
The biggest question of all in each case is why law enforcement agencies have withheld key information, of sorts that are usually disclosed immediately in connection with any criminal investigation.
Texas locations but not actual links
Four of the six fatalities occurred in three communities located southwest of Fort Worth, Texas.
This included the May 10, 2021 shootings of Concho County Sheriff’s Office deputies Samuel Leonard, 26, and Sergeant Stephen Jones, 34, both reportedly killed while responding to a dog bite call in Eden, Texas.
The first two fatalities, resulting from incidents occurring on May 6, 2021, came in Hewitt, Texas, and Sulphur, Louisiana, about 20 miles east of the Texas state line.
But despite the many Texas connections, nothing appears to actually link the deaths, all of them announced to media between Monday evening, May 10, 2021, and on the following day, May 11, 2021.
The sixth death, occurring approximately 70 minutes before the killings in Eden, came in Norwich, Connecticut.
The Eden sheriff’s deputy shootings, coinciding with the beginning of National Police Week, drew by far the most media scrutiny, but several of the most obvious questions apparently went unasked for days.
ANIMALS 24-7 inquiries also brought no answers. The San Angelo Standard-Times and Associated Press, however, on May 12, 2021 disclosed that alleged killer Jeffrey Vincent Nicholas “was angry [that deputies] Leonard and Jones were in his yard trying to catch a dog and he told them he would open fire if they didn’t leave.”
Part-time Eden animal control officer David Hutchings told the San Angelo Standard-Times that the two deputies “walked up toward [Nicholas], rushed him, and he pulled a gun, and shots were fired,” killing Leonard and Jones.
A bullet also pierced the door of a city pickup truck, wounding Eden animal control supervisor Ronnie Winans in the stomach. Winans, 51, was initially reported to be in critical condition, but two days later was said to be stable.
Suspect told deputies to leave property
“Hutchings, a city employee who helps with animal control, told the newspaper that the officers were helping city employees collect two dogs who had bitten someone earlier in the day,” Associated Press summarized.
“The deputies had already caught one of the dogs and the other one ran into Nicholas’ yard. Hutchings said Nicholas did not own either animal.
“Nicholas told the deputies they couldn’t enter his yard to get the dog, that they should ‘get off his property’ and that he ‘has his civil rights,’ Hutchings explained to the San Angelo Standard-Times.
“He said Nicholas told the deputies that he would shoot them, and then opened fire,” Associated Press said.
Not a routine after-hours dog bite case
The Hutchings account, and all others available to date, neglected to mention the severity of the dog bite that triggered the episode.
That two animal control officers backed by two sheriff’s deputies responded to a dog bite call nearly four hours after normal business hours suggests that the bite might have been quite severe.
But who was the victim? Was the victim transported to hospital? Were both dogs impounded and kept in custody after the shootings? Who is the alleged dog owner, since according to Hutchings, Nicholas is not their owner?
Clearly this was not a routine after-hours dog bite case, in response to which an animal control officer would normally ask the dog’s owner to provide proof of anti-rabies vaccination the following day.
Why was suspect in his vehicle?
A witness earlier told both KLST/KSAN and San Angelo LIVE! that sheriff’s deputies Leonard and Jones made a traffic stop of suspect Jeffrey Vincent Nicholas, 28, outside of his home, audibly ordering Nicholas to, “Roll your window down and then put up your hands.”
Why was Nicholas in his vehicle? Was he just getting home from somewhere? Or was he trying to leave the scene?
San Angelo LIVE! reporter Yantis Green filled in some further details.
“According to witnesses,” Green wrote, “the driver [Nicholas] fled and after a short pursuit the suspect stopped at his home around the corner. The next thing witnesses reported hearing was nine or ten gunshots: ‘People shooting back and forth.’
“Six vicious dogs control the neighborhood”
“Reporters on the scene relay that witnesses said there are six dogs that are vicious that control the neighborhood,” Green continued. “One witness said the suspect was yelling at law enforcement saying, ‘Those aren’t my dogs. You are always harassing me and tasing me.’”
Were all six dogs perhaps involved in the biting case? What sort of dogs were they––pit bulls? A hunting pack? Street mutts?
If the dogs “control the neighborhood,” were there previous biting incidents?
If the Concho County Sheriff’s Office had tased Nicholas on one or more previous occasions, when and why was this?
More details, but no answers
“Witnesses say there was a short standoff when the shooter barricaded himself inside his home. He shouted out to officers that he has constitutional rights. After a few intense minutes, the shooter surrendered uneventfully to law enforcement and was handcuffed and placed into the back of a Concho County Sheriff’s Office vehicle,” Green finished.
Added San Angelo LIVE! publisher Joe Hyde on May 12, 2021, “The official report states that both deputies responded to investigate an incident involving a dog bite. While investigating, the deputies encountered Nicholas and asked him where the dog or dogs were. Nicholas refused to cooperate, court documents state. Then Nicholas ordered the peace officers off his property.
“According to the witnesses the Texas Rangers interviewed, Nicholas threatened to shoot the deputies if the deputies did not get off his property,” Hyde summarized.
“With that, a physical struggle ensued,” Hyde continued. “During the struggle, court documents state, the deputies attempted to deploy a Taser on Nicholas to subdue him into compliance. When that happened, Nicholas was able to pull out a semi-automatic handgun and fire shots at the deputies, killing both. Nicholas then fired his handgun toward City of Eden employees who were with the deputies during the dog bite investigation. Court documents state that one city employee [Winans] was shot, causing serious bodily injury.”
Noted Hyde, “San Angelo LIVE! was able to obtain only a copy of the arrest affidavit. The peace officer’s report is being withheld because releasing it will reveal details related to the “detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime and release of the information would interfere with the prosecution of the crime.’”
But no one was charged for whatever the dog or dogs did, either as part of the alleged sequence of crimes associated with the killings, or separately, if another suspect owned the dogs who reportedly bit someone.
Nicholas, 28, was booked into the Tom Green County Jail and charged with two counts of capital murder of a peace officer. His bail was set at $4 million.
Nicholas was not immediately charged with shooting Winans, leaving open the possibility that Winans may have been hit by a stray bullet from one of the sheriff’s deputies.
Dog bite mistaken for gun wound
The first of the string of dog-related deaths disclosed on May 10 and May 11, 2021 actually occurred in Hewitt, Texas, on May 6, four days earlier.
Wrote Waco Tribune reporter Rhiannon Saegert, “Leon Peysen, 70, died after reversing, hitting a large wooden sign and flipping his car in a parking lot,” near an optometrist’s office.
Peysen, whose full name was Leon Julian Peysen, appears to have been best known as Rusty Peysen.
“Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said the first person to respond to the crash was an off-duty Hewitt police officer who saw a crowd gathering. She found Peysen trapped under the car with a dog,” and a wound beneath his ear that police initially believed had come from a handgun found in the car.
Continued Saegert, “Justice of the Peace Diane Hensley said a preliminary autopsy revealed the wound that Hewitt Police suspected was from a gunshot turned out to be a bite wound from one of the three dogs in the car during the wreck.”
“Husky-like dog” and two others not identified
Elaborated Ke’Sha Lopez for KWTX television news in Waco, “Investigators have determined Peysen pulled into the parking lot, rounded up three dogs, a husky-like dog that was his and two others that belonged to someone else, and put the animals in his SUV.
“Security video shows he started to slowly back out and then suddenly accelerated,” Lopez narrated. “The SUV struck the business’ sign and overturned on the driver’s side. Peysen fell out as the vehicle overturned and ended up pinned beneath the SUV. One of his dog’s paws was also pinned. The other two dogs ran off.
“Police don’t yet know why Peysen accelerated as he backed up,” Lopez said, six days after the accident. “They also don’t know which of the three dogs bit him, why he was bitten, and whether the bite occurred before, during or after the SUV overturned.”
Hewitt police chief Devlin told Lopez that Peysen’s dog, who was trapped by a paw, had blood on his mouth.
However, Lopez added, “The agitated dog was biting parts of the vehicle to try to free himself,” and could have injured his mouth in so doing.
“A local animal advocate took the injured dog to a veterinary hospital,” Lopez finished.
Little information was available about Peysen, except that in fall 2006 he was recognized for maintaining a 4.0 grade point average at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, about two hours northwest of Hewitt.
A family tree of descendants of Jodoc Henrich Wilde (1767-1846) mentions that Leon Julian Peysen, born in 1951, married Jean Whetzel, born in 1955. Both appear to have attended Copperas High School in Copperas Cove, Texas. They had one daughter, Sara Beth Peysen, born in 1997.
“He ignored me”
Also on May 6, 2021, three pit bulls fatally mauled Dustin Ryan Vincent, 27, in Sulphur, Louisiana, a western suburb of Lake Charles.
Airlifted to a hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana, in critical condition from extreme facial, head and leg injuries, Vincent reportedly lost brain function late on May 10, and died on the afternoon of May 11, leaving three young daughters by an estranged former girlfriend and a string of social media postings referencing issues with drugs and alcohol.
Reported Jennifer Lott of KPLC television news in Lake Charles, “Law enforcement says the man [Vincent] went to the house [where he was attacked] to visit a family member, but that relative was not home. The owner of the dogs,” identified Brandi Cormier, with at least 16 separate Facebook accounts and multiple aliases, said she “told him not to go into the backyard where ‘beware of dog’ signs are plastered.”
Said Cormier, “He came in and when he got to my porch, I said ‘please, please get out of my yard.’ He ignored me.”
“That takes income away from my house”
Exhibiting only pro forma concern for Vincent, and describing herself as a victim, Cormier continued, “I’m so sorry for his family. I’m so sorry this happened. This has scarred me for the rest of my life. Everybody says pray for his family. But what about me? I tried to save him. I tried to make him get out.”
Cormier told Lott that she told responding police to shoot her pit bulls, but that they tased one pit bull instead.
“I’m going to have them spayed and neutered and one of them is a $10,000 dollar breed dog,” Cormier continued. “So that takes income away from my house. He’s a wonderful dog. When you come in the gate, he hugs you.”
Obviously, though, the pit bulls did not “hug” Vincent; and if Cormier’s statements are taken at apparent face value, she was breeding high-priced pit bulls.
“Dragged up and down the sidewalk”
The last of the string of Texas dog-related fatalities came at approximately 6:00 a.m. on May 11, 2021 in Big Spring.
According to a Big Spring Police Department media release, officers responding to “an unknown disturbance” upon reaching the scene “immediately observed a dog attacking a male individual identified as John Henry, Hispanic male 46 years of age. Officers observed two more individuals outside trying to get the dog to stop attacking Mr. Henry. The officers discharged their weapons in the direction of the dog, scaring the dog away.”
Henry died, however, and “another male individual was also bitten,” the Big Spring Police Department mentioned, while the dog, identified by witnesses as a pit bull, was impounded for rabies quarantine at the Big Spring Animal Shelter.
Reported Sammi Steele for KWES television in Midland, “Neighbors tell NewsWest 9 the man was dragged up and down the sidewalk before police arrived.
Throwing tire did not stop the pit bull
“They had sticks, they had a tire even, all throwing it at the dog,” witness Tracy Myrick told Steele. “The dog would stop a little bit and then go back to the man.”
Said Steele, “Myrick, a former dispatch worker, was on the phone with 911 the whole attack. As for who owns the dog, neighbors tell us it is a resident who is living in an abandoned house on the block.
“This is not the first time the people living in the abandoned house,” a man and a woman, “have caused problems for the neighborhood,” Steele added.
“They have been there maybe three weeks and this is probably the fourth time police have been there,” Myrick told Steele, mentioning that the people occupying the abandoned house also have a pit bull puppy.
No further information about John Henry was released, including confirmation that this was his complete name. Unclear was whether he was among the alleged owners of the pit bull who killed him, or just a passer-by. No next-of-kin were identified.
But dozens of social media postings, many of them made directly to the Big Spring Police Department page on Facebook, established that allegedly lackadaisical response to frequent complaints about pit bulls running at large are a longstanding community grievance.
Baby in arms killed in Norwich
In Norwich, Connecticut, meanwhile, a pit bull fatally mauled one-month-old Carter Settles at about 8:20 p.m. on May 10, 2021, reportedly while he was in the arms of a female relative. WFSB-TV of New London reported that, “The baby’s mom and paternal grandmother were at the home at the time of the attack.”
Whose pit bull attacked Carter Settles, how the pit bull came to be in the apartment, and where the pit bull came from all remain undisclosed.
According to The Day newspaper, also of New London, Connecticut, Carter Settles’ father, Timothy Settles, was arrested at the same address on September 19, 2020 for assaulting a pregnant female resident, allegedly hitting her in the head and leaving scratches on her neck, after luring her home from work by telling her their apartment was on fire.
Settles subsequently pleaded guilty to the assault and to interfering with police. He reportedly no longer lives at that address.
Whose pit bull? Why was the pit bull there?
Did Settles leave the pit bull at the apartment? Or did the residents perhaps acquire the pit bull to protect themselves from him?
The mother and grandmother’s identities and even the exact address of the pit bull attack have not been disclosed, though local news media did identify and photograph the multi-unit building.
About seven hours after Carter Settles was killed, witnesses testified that Timothy Settles appeared at another multi-unit building in New London, Connecticut, located 16 miles straight south of the scene of the pit bull attack.
According to Erin Edwards, Rob Polansky, and Kevin Hogan of WFSB, screaming on the front porch ensued.
“At four a.m., we got a call for a structure fire and when they arrived there was heavy fire near the first floor porch area,” New London Fire Department chief Thomas Curcio told WFSB.
Two downstairs residents were not home. Four upstairs residents escaped, one of whom was taken to a hospital but soon discharged.
“Person of interest”
Reported WFSB, “The fire is being investigated as arson, according to New London police chief Peter Reichard. Police said they are looking for 32-year-old Timothy Settles as a person of interest.
“We don’t have probable cause for arrest yet, but we want his name out there so people who know who he is and have him turn himself in so we could question him related to the fire,” Reichard said.
Police described Settles as a 6’4” black male, weighing about 240 pounds, with a scar on his forehead and believed to be driving a BMW with New York plates.
No connections among Settles, the pit bull who killed his son, and the New London address were disclosed.
Five days after the pit bull attack and four days after the fire, Settles reportedly remained at large.