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Man who shot family’s pet tortoise in Zionsville facing criminal mischief charge

Photo from Tasha Chapel

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. – A man who shot his neighbor’s pet tortoise earlier this month is now facing a criminal mischief charge.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Office says it has ended its investigation into the animal’s death and has concluded that Brandt Lawson “recklessly, knowingly or intentionally” destroyed Tasha Chapel’s property without her consent.

According to Chapel, her 65 lb. African sulcata tortoise named Merlin had gotten loose in the area near Horseshoe Dr. and the Rockbridge subdivision on the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 31.

Chapel later learned that the tortoise had wandered onto Lawson’s farm and he had shot it in the head. He told the owner he thought Merlin was a snapping turtle and thought he might bite someone.

In an interview with FOX59, Chapel said Merlin’s breed is neither aggressive nor dangerous to humans. She believes the farmer had several options that didn’t involve shooting the family’s pet.

According to a statement from Lawson’s attorney, he “apologized to the pet’s owner immediately after he realized his own terrible error in judgment.”

Lawson maintains he thought the tortoise was potentially dangerous.

“[He] is devastated that he mistook the exotic pet for a potentially harmful animal. He is hopeful that he will be able to meet with the pet’s owner to more fully express his sincere apologies,” the statement from his attorney said.

The county’s animal control liaison urges the community to contact local law enforcement, the Humane Society or DNR if they come in contact or observe an animal that they have questions about.

Sheriff Nielsen issued the following statement:

“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to protecting lives of everyone, human or animal, domestic or non-domestic; if it is outside the confines of the state law.  This is an unfortunate circumstance with Merlin, because he is not considered a domestic animal by state law.  When we found out what occurred we immediately began an investigation with our Animal Control Liaison. Deputy Fisher, our Animal Control Liaison, reached out to many other agencies to see what could be done about this incident. This is just another example of why we have been working so hard for the last year on getting the proper county animal control ordinance in place as well as the funding for a full time Animal Control Officer.