A 77-year-old Northeast Portland man who police say tossed sausages laced with ricin over his fence in a failed attempt to kill his neighbor's dogs was sentenced Wednesday to probation and possible mental health counseling.
Michael Joseph Lynch tried to poison the two dogs on four separate days in July 2016 because he was frustrated with their barking, authorities said. Yet investigators questioned surrounding neighbors who said the dogs created little noise when outside in the backyard.
Lynch also was sentenced for endangering the dogs' owner, Richard Schmidtke. Schmidtke said he handled some of the poisonous meat by taking it from the mouth of one of the dogs and ended up in respiratory distress and on a ventilator at an urgent care clinic.
Schmidtke stood up in court and said Lynch has “absolutely no respect for what is socially acceptable, no moral compass.”
He added: “What kind of person stoops so low as to poison animals? That’s unconscionable to me.”
Lynch has no criminal history and worked as a railroad engineer for nearly 40 years. His defense attorney, Stephen Houze, said his client will abide by court orders to have no contact with his neighbor.
“Mr. Lynch … wants to live the rest of his life in peace and harmony with his neighbors,” Houze said.
Houze didn't offer an apology for Lynch, and Lynch declined to make any statement when given the chance by the judge.
Lynch pleaded no contest in Multnomah County Circuit Court to five misdemeanors: attempted first-degree animal abuse, second-degree animal abuse, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and possessing a loaded firearm in public. Investigators said Lynch didn’t have a concealed weapons permit for his .38-caliber handgun, and it has been confiscated from him for good.
Schmidtke said his dogs — Bandit and Snowflake, ages 2 and 5 — are American and French Brittany Spaniels bred for bird hunting. He said he has lived in his home for more than 20 years and didn’t know Lynch before Lynch started feeding his dogs the poisoned meat. The backyards of the two men are kitty-corner to each other in the Parkrose neighborhood.
Schmidtke said he first realized what Lynch had done on July 10, when he saw Snowflake with a butterflied piece of sausage in her mouth.
“She immediately started vomiting,” Schmidtke said. He thought she was going to be fine, but the next morning she seemed near death and he rushed her to a veterinarian, he said.
“She couldn’t move,” Schmidtke said. “Her eyes were rolled back. She was in desperate trouble.”
Over the next eight days, Schmidtke said Lynch flung meat over his fence three more times. Schmidtke said he caught Lynch in the act while Schmidtke was sitting on his back patio.
Bandit also scarfed down some tainted meat, and Schmidt said he got Bandit to vomit by giving him a dose of hydrogen peroxide.
Schmidtke said at first he called police, but they told him to talk to Multnomah County Animal Services. Schmidtke gave the meat to Animal Services to be tested, and the results came back positive for ricin, authorities said. Police investigated, and so did the FBI, briefly.
Police found castor beans — which naturally produce ricin — at Lynch’s home. They also found a container labeled as having botulism inside, authorities said.
Schmidtke also filed a $400,000 civil lawsuit against Lynch, and the case is still headed toward trial.
As part of Lynch’s three years of probation, he will be evaluated by a mental health expert for any signs of psychological problems and ordered to receive treatment if necessary. He must attend an educational program about the importance of being compassionate to animals. He won’t be allowed to own pets for five years. Lynch also must complete 120 hours of community service.
Judge Kenneth Walker gave Lynch a stern warning to stay away from Schmidtke and follow the other terms of his sentence or face swift consequences.
“I won’t hesitate to issue a warrant and put you in jail,” Walker said.
Walker said in his 35 years as a lawyer and a judge, he has seen neighborhood disputes spiral so far out of control that one neighbor has hurt or killed the other.
“Today, I am telling you this is over,” Walker said.
— Aimee Green
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