In the months before Klonda Richey was attacked by dogs and mauled to death outside her home at 31 E. Bruce Ave. on Feb. 7, she spent much of her time building a “compound” to protect herself and her beloved cats from a neighbor she claimed was threatening her.
Richey installed surveillance cameras and an 8-foot fence around her property, and bought a handheld recording device. She planned to buy a handheld video camera as well.
Her plan: To use surveillance video from outside her house for evidence of her neighbor’s mixed-mastiff dogs charging her and to document threats she said the neighbor, Andrew Nason, 28, of 35 E. Bruce Ave., had made against her for about two years.
Although she had been denied a civil stalking protection order against Nason by the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, she wanted to file another one, said Doug Jahnke, who dated Richey off and on for the last three years and who knew her for more than 25 years.
“It was like a prison compound,” Jahnke said of her house. “In her words, ‘It was a combat zone.’ She was stressed. I have a note from her that says, ‘I’m tired of being stressed and living on high alert.’ There wasn’t any joy in her life anymore.”
Multiple attempts to reach Nason by phone were unsuccessful, and no one answered the door on numerous visits to the home.
Richey’s death has sparked criticism of the system designed to protect citizens from dangerous dogs and threatening neighbors. It illustrates an escalating conflict between neighbors that ended with a woman’s death.
To retrace the conflict between Richey and Nason, the Dayton Daily News examined video surveillance and hundreds of pages of police records, court documents and complaints related to Richey’s home and the home of her neighbor, Nason. The surveillance footage — obtained by WHIO-TV from Jahnke — shows encounters between Richey and Nason, and the dogs coming onto her property.
Richey clearly lived in fear for her safety and reached out on numerous occasions for help. The question is, does blame for her death go beyond the dogs who attacked her and rest as well with the system designed to protect citizens from vicious animals?
‘Nobody saw the event’
Richey’s body was discovered at 8:16 a.m., Feb. 7, when a passerby called 911. She had been mauled to death — her clothes shredded by the dogs — and died at approximately 3:15 a.m., according to Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger. Based on witness statements, Harshbarger said Richey probably died 15 minutes after she was attacked.
That means, her naked body lay in the snow for five hours until the 911 call came in.
It’s unclear why Richey was outside that early, but Jahnke said she hadn’t been feeling well and was sleeping odd hours.
“Nobody saw the event, but they heard things,” Harshbarger said in explaining the estimated timetable for when the attack occurred.
When Dayton Police arrived at the house, they were charged by the two dogs believed to be involved in the attack. Officers shot and killed the dogs.
Richey’s cause of death was ruled as blood loss due to extensive soft tissue trauma, Harshbarger said. The autopsy report is expected to be completed in six to eight weeks, he said.
It is unknown how many times Richey was bitten.
“We can’t quantify it because they overlap,” Harshbarger said. “There’s no way to put a range on it.”
She was pronounced dead at 8:37 a.m. — 21 minutes after the dispatch call came in.
The Dayton Police Department is still investigating. Nason and Julie Custer, 25, who also lives at 35 E. Bruce Ave., were released from jail Feb. 9 — two days after Richey’s death. A suspect cannot be held for more than 48 hours before being formally charged with a crime.
No one has been charged in connection with Richey’s death.
“Often, 48 hours is simply not sufficient time for the police to conduct a full and complete investigation and to ensure that all the elements of a crime are supported by the evidence,” Greg Flannagan, spokesman for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, said in a statement. “We continue to work with and assist the police in this ongoing investigation.”
Ted Richey, Klonda’s brother, said Friday that his family met with a detective investigating the incident. “We are pleased they are doing everything they can to bring whoever is responsible to justice,” he said.
Klonda Richey made numerous attempts to call attention to the trouble she said she was having with her neighbor.
In total, 13 complaints were filed with the Animal Resource Center and another 46 calls were made to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center related to Nason’s home between Dec. 27, 2011, and Richey’s death on Feb. 7. Most of the Animal Resource Center calls were anonymous but 23 of the calls to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center were from Richey or associated with Richey’s phone number. The majority of the calls were about the dogs at the Nason house, but other calls included complaints about juveniles, fireworks and other activity.
Richey also sought a civil stalking protection order against Nason but ultimately was denied in April 2013.
‘Nothing was done’
Richey decided to file again. “’I’m not laying down on this again,’” Jahnke said she told him. “‘I’m going to document everything.’”
Richey’s life revolved around protecting herself, yet “nothing was done” to protect her, Jahnke said.
On one occasion, Jahnke said, he arrived at Richey’s house just as the police and an Animal Resource Center official were leaving Nason’s house. “They just drove away and there was nothing,” he said. “They wrote a report. That’s all they did.”
Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, said his agency did all it could to address the complaints lodged about the dogs at 35 E. Bruce. Of the 13 complaints that went directly to the resource center, 12 were anonymous and none involved a dog attacking someone. Instead, they involved neglect, dogs barking, running loose or chasing people.
In 2012, Nason registered two mixed-mastiff dogs with the Montgomery County Auditor’s office. It’s not clear if other dogs were at the house.
“This is a tragic accident,” Kumpf said. “There’s nothing that would be foreseeable or doable to prevent a situation like this from happening. We can go out and visit each and every time. Again, in this particular case, these dogs have no history of ever biting a person or been complained on for killing another dog. All of the criteria that exists for animal control officers and dog wardens, none of those were met in this case.”
A caller who did leave her name said on May 21, 2013, that “all four of the dogs were loose again and chased her.” But Kumpf said the caller didn’t actually witness anything, and was reporting third-hand for someone else. The newspaper tried contacting the caller but was unsuccessful.
Kumpf said investigators made numerous visits to the house at 35 E. Bruce in response to the dog complaints. The majority of the time, the homeowners were not there or did not answer the door, he said, and a warning was posted on the house.
Although dog owners typically contact the resource center “99 percent of the time,” after a warning is issued, Kumpf said, no one at the Bruce house did so.
He said there is no evidence the owners broke the law in connection with any of the complaints made about the dogs.
“Under Ohio laws, for a dog at-large violation to be issued, the officer must actually witness the dog off the property and not under the owner’s immediate control,” Kumpf said. “We cannot issue a citation based on a third party witnessing an event.”
If no violation is issued, the case is closed, Kumpf said.
“To proactively patrol, that’s very difficult,” he said. “We have very limited staff in order to provide that service.” Kumpf did say animal control officers follow up on notices when they can and check out known problem areas. East Bruce Avenue was not a designated problem area for vicious dogs, he said.
Animal resource officers are still trying to collect Richey’s many cats, and her family is working with Kumpf’s staff to find homes for them. Richey, who rescued cats and had two homes to house them, owned as many as 50 cats.
Although no complaints were filed against Richey, she was in apparent violation of the Dayton zoning code for having so many cats. Under the code, a resident who owns four or more cats is considered to be an animal boarding facility, and such a facility cannot be in a residential zone, Dayton law director John Danish said. He said there is no record of Richey being cited.
In addition to the house at 31 E. Bruce, Richey owned a house at 142 Northwood Ave. in Dayton, Montgomery County property records show. As of Friday, animal resource officers had counted 23 cats in or around the Northwood Avenue house. Friends are currently taking care of those cats and animal resource staff is currently evaluating their health. The rest of her cats are at the Animal Resource Center and may be available for adoption in 10 to 14 days.
Richey, 57, grew up in Dayton, the youngest of three children. She shared a bedroom with her older sister, Linda, and like most children loved her stuffed animals. Known as “Ducky” to her big brother, Ted, she enjoyed swimming but was scared of riding a bike.
Ted Richey said in an email this week that Klonda was, “described as the ‘Energizer Bunny’ because she was happiest when she was active and busy.”
A 1974 graduate of Fairview High School, she attended Sinclair Community College, the College of Charleston in South Carolina and the former Chadwick University (now The Chadwick Institute) in Alabama.
“She experimented with other locations,” Ted Richey said, but ultimately she returned to Dayton to be near family.
In 1992, Richey bought her home on East Bruce Avenue from her parents who had owned the home since 1988, according to the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.
Jahnke met Richey in 1987 at a gym downtown. They worked out together and dated for about three months at the time. They went their separate ways, Richey married briefly and Jahnke didn’t see her again until Nov. 29, 2010.
Ted Richey and Jahnke said Klonda’s life was full of many interests: sewing, painting, cooking, exercising, dancing.
“She was very talented,” Jahnke said.
In his email, Ted Richey said his sister danced everyday “for the joy and exercise. Taught ballroom dancing for a while and in her words, ‘dancing creates a feeling of sheer joy within.’”
She came from a family that had a lot of longevity, he said. Their grandmother lived to be 100, their father 92 and their mother 90. For his sister to die at 57 and in this way, he said, is inconceivable.
She worked at Montgomery County Children Services, now the Montgomery County Job & Family Services, for almost 26 years, eventually becoming a purchasing agent. A dedicated exerciser and personal trainer, she frequently walked the short distance to work.
“It was part of her daily routine,” Ted Richey said. One of the reasons she didn’t want to leave her house was because her house was so close to her job — allowing her to walk to work.
Despite her many other interests, her cats are what she was best known for. She moved several of the “baby cats” to the Northwood Avenue house after she purchased it in March 2006, Jahnke said. Her dream was to buy land and create a retirement home for cats called Alleycat Garden. The home would be “a place for cats to roam and be free with a courtyard that was fenced in and a garden,” Jahnke said.
“She would work just to make money to take care of her cats,” Ted Richey said. “Basically, her life’s work was caring for these cats.”
Growing up, Richey didn’t have many pets, Ted Richey said. “Our parents did not want pets, but we had a Cocker Spaniel for a brief time and a stray tomcat that we were allowed to feed,” he said.
“Klonda always had a love of cats in particular and they seemed to find her.”
Her friends and co-workers expressed outrage that enough was not done to assist her with the problems she told them she had with her neighbors and their dogs.
“She’s always been terrified of those dogs,” said Tim Bridwell, a friend and co-worker at the Montgomery County Job & Family Services, who lives two blocks from Richey.
Ann Stevens, who worked with Richey for 16 years at the Montgomery County Job & Family Services Administration Services Division, said it was ironic that such a devout animal lover would be “killed by animals in such a brutal aggressive way.”
“Every conversation I had with Klonda included cats,” Stevens said. “She was very passionate about animals and their well-being and because of that she always had a special place in my heart.”
Jahnke said Richey didn’t seem to mind filling at least 10 food bowls and cleaning multiple litter boxes every day.
Her home always was tidy, he said. When police officers entered after her death, all of her cats seemed to be well-cared for, the Animal Resource Center said.
“She was the workingest woman I ever saw,” Jahnke said. “Those cats were her life. Period.”
‘No one’s life is in danger’
The first complaint to the Animal Resource Center about Richey’s next-door neighbor at 35 E. Bruce Ave. was Dec. 27, 2011, according to records. The anonymous complaint was that a “dog is very thin, ribs are visible. No F/W (food/water) outside.”
Andrew Nason had purchased the home earlier that year, though it is not clear when he moved in. Nason was placed under five years probation in February 2012 after being convicted of petty theft and assault, according to court records. Custer lived in the home as well during the past two years, and children were present. It is unclear how many children lived there, however.
Richey’s troubles with Nason began in May 2012, according to the civil stalking protection order petition she filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court in September 2012 and a 911 call she made in July 2013.
Richey said she filed the petition based on a recommendation made by Dayton police following an incident on Sept. 6, 2012, when she said Nason circled around her in a dune buggy.
Georgetta Young, who lives across the street, said the neighborhood is “pretty quiet” after 10 p.m. but she would sometimes hear loud vehicles — “ATV-type things.”
Of the complaints Richey had with Nason, Young said, “I didn’t know that it was to the point she had that many issues and complaints because you never really witness anything like that.”
In her filing for a protection order, Richey said she “live(d) in fear of what’s next” from May 12, 2012, to September 2012. Richey said she had lost 12 pounds because of Nason’s conduct toward her, which included:
- Letting his dogs chase her.
- Mowing down her peonies.
- Yelling at her from his deck or porch.
- Threatening her cats and damaging three of them.
- Circling her in his dune buggy as she walked to and from work.
- Interrupting workers as they tried to build her fence.
According to court documents, Nason denied hurting Richey’s cats, said he “loves animals,” and that the issue between them was strictly over the property line. Nason denied making threats and said “no one’s life is in danger.”
Nason “lamented he would like (Richey) to keep her cats inside because he ‘would really love not to have my cars scratched.’ He said he was unaware that the issue between them had gotten this serious,” the court record stated.
Nason also said Richey had the “same problem” with the neighbor on the other side of her home, which is 27 E. Bruce Avenue. That home is now vacant, but at the time was occupied by Kevin Harris, who wrote a letter on Nason’s behalf detailing his own feud with Richey.
Harris said Richey “is a looney tune and needs help real bad,” in his letter dated Nov. 28, 2012. Custer also submitted a letter, accusing Richey of harassment; calling police, animal patrol and housing inspection for no reason; making a false report to children’s services; and taping letters to their back porch with “obscene things written on them after repeatedly being asked to stay off of our property.”
One of those letters was included in court documents. In the undated and unsigned letter, Richey offered to buy Nason’s house for $3,900 cash.
“Don’t really want the house, but do want the trauma to my cats and fear to end,” Richey wrote. “…If you want to hurt me, shoot or stab me. Leave cats in peace.”
Magistrate Kristi Wuebben in February 2013 denied the civil stalking protection order, despite saying that Richey “gathered extensive information about what (Nason) is doing during the day and night.” There was no evidence that Nason had caused or threatened to cause Richey with physical harm, Wuebben wrote.
“(Richey) believes that (Nason) is harming her cats, after, he purportedly threatened to harm her cats, yet she leaves the cats outside,” the court record says. “It does not reconcile with common sense that if, in fact, (Nason) had threatened the cats and/or if (Richey) really believed (Nason) was hurting the animals, that she would leave them outside.”
Wuebben’s magistrate office referred all questions to Judge Michael Tucker, who declined to comment on the specific case, beyond what was recorded in court documents.
Tucker said to grant a civil stalking protection order, there must be a pattern of conduct — two or more incidents closely related in time — that has caused physical harm or mental distress.
“There is a statute that sets forth what needs to be established in order for a civil stalking protection order to be issued,” Tucker said. “I can only conclude that Magistrate Wuebben determined that based upon what was presented to her, the statutory requirements were not established by Ms. Richey.”
Tom Hagel, professor of law at the University of Dayton School of Law, said uncorroborated accusations alone are not sufficient to justify the granting of a temporary protection order in such cases.
“The burden is on the person seeking the order to convince the magistrate or judge that the dogs are a threat to her safety,” he said.
In cases where a criminal charge has not been filed regarding the dogs’ owner, it is often more difficult to convince the judge to issue the order, he said.
Hagel said the law attempts to balance the interests of the dog owner’s right to possess the dogs against the public’s right to safety. In addition, seeking such an order can, at times, be misused, he said, as a way to retaliate against someone by making accusations that are not true.
“In most cases, the complaints are legitimate,” he said. “The problem is that the person requesting the protection order may not understand the legal requirements to justify issuing the order, such as what evidence the law requires to be presented.”
Richey filed an objection to Wuebben’s denial, but it was overruled by Judge Michael Krumholtz. Richey did not file a copy of the initial hearing transcript in her objections, which factored into Krumholtz’s decision.
“You must get to the judge who is ruling upon the objections a transcript of the hearing before the magistrate, or the judge can’t determine whether or not the factual objections are accurate or not,” Tucker said.
He said Richey could have appealed Krumholtz’s ruling in the Second District Court of Appeals.
State lawmakers will likely review Ohio’s dangerous dog laws in the wake of Richey’s death, House Republican Caucus spokesman Mike Dittoe said last week.
A new state law, which took effect in May 2012, created three definitions for problem dogs — nuisance, dangerous and vicious — and removed pit bulls from the definition of a vicious dog. It also created a process for owners to appeal the designation of their pet as a nuisance dog.
“We have been severely hampered by the state law that changed,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said on Wednesday after her state of the city address, in which she did not mention vicious dogs.
Whaley said she receives a complaint from a citizen about a vicious dog roughly once a week.
Under the law’s definitions, nuisance dogs are those that, without provocation and off their owners’ property, chase or menace someone or attempt to bite a person. Dangerous dogs have, without provocation, injured someone, killed other dogs or had three or more violations of regulations covering the confinement or control of dogs. Vicious dogs are defined as those that have, without provocation, killed or caused serious injury to a person.
The county’s control officers only have authority to enforce violations of the Ohio Revised Code, Kumpf said. The mixed-mastiff dogs involved in Richey’s death did not have a designation of nuisance, dangerous or vicious, according to Kumpf.
Joe Tuss, Montgomery County Administrator, said the county’s Animal Resource Center did all it could under the law when it responded to the complaints and investigated them.
“This is an incredibly unfortunate circumstance and a terrible tragedy, but to move to the conclusion that the county didn’t do enough, that the Animal Resource Center didn’t do enough and could have done more, I don’t have anything to lead me to that conclusion,” Tuss said.
County commissioner Dan Foley said state legislation needs to give more authority to local animal control officers to act upon patterns of behavior or violence, even if it is not witnessed by the officer.
“It would allow staff to be able to make judgment calls in a way to improve safety,” Foley said. “We could use data to help our staff understand which dogs have the highest level of concern by the community, and we could make an improvement.”
Foley said he would categorize the 13 complaints in about a two-year span at 35 E. Bruce Ave. to be a “pattern of violence.”
“Nobody should have to go through what she went through,” Foley said. “The thing that matters the most is she lost her life. I hope that doesn’t get lost.”
Hagel said that he’s not sure if changing the law is the answer.
“People tend to confuse ‘law’ with ‘justice,’ he said. “They are not synonymous. What the community may believe to be ‘just’ may not be the same as what is ‘legal .’”
Jahnke said his friend glass blocked her windows and built what resembled a prison compound because she wanted to be left alone.
Ted Richey said he and his wife tried to convince his sister to move but she wanted to stay because she considered the house not only hers but her cats’ as well.
He hopes some good can come of her death, including an examination of the law.
“If anything, the laws may need to be adjusted,” he said. “If something like that were to come out of this whole incident, that would be something positive — so that maybe nothing like this will happen again.”
In her own words
In a 911 recording from July 2, 2013, Klonda Richey tells the dispatcher that Nason intimidated her as she walked to work.
“He knows my schedule,” Richey says. “The dog had a leash on, but he wasn’t holding it. He said his treat today was going to be eating a whole bunch of cats. … This is nuts. It’s a constant intimidation thing.”
Richey tells the dispatcher that Nason knows where her surveillance cameras are and he stays out of those zones. She says she’s spent more than $2,000 in surveillance video and $1,500 on her fence to keep Nason and his dogs off her property.
“I have to turn my home into Fort Knox,” Richey says.
“I tried the civil protection order, and I got brushed aside with those judges as a neighbor dispute,” she says. “This has gone way beyond a neighbor dispute. … I’ve done everything in my power to contain this guy.”
Donald Cleary, director of communications and publications for the National Canine Research Council, said “at first blush, (Richey’s death) looks as though it’s just a situation where someone was doing an extremely poor job looking after the dogs.”
He said that some fatalities are preventable because it’s all a matter of pet ownership.
“There are certain common sense things,” Cleary said.
Those include prohibiting your dog from running loose; putting it on a good diet; not ignoring it when it displays an increasing level of stress; familiarizing itself with the normal flow of human interaction; and not leaving it with small children.
“Everybody is responsible for the dog that he has,” Cleary said. “It’s not that hard.”
More online: Listen to the audio of a 911 call Richey made to police to complain about her neighbors months before her death and watch an exclusive surveillance video of encounters between Richey and Nason at MyDaytonDailyNews.com/local.
To bring you the most complete coverage of the tragic death of Klonda Ritchey, the Dayton Daily News examined hundreds of pages of documents, viewed surveillance video taken from the cameras outside Richey’s home and conducted multiple interviews with friends, family members, neighbors, animal control officers, lawmakers and other local officials.