An aggressive and combative wild turkey was shot and killed by a Chilmark police officer last Sunday after it reportedly attacked two people dropping off rental baby equipment at a home on Old Ridge Hill Road and then briefly held them hostage inside their delivery van.
Although the full-grown male turkey met a quick demise after being shot four times by a Chilmark police officer, the drama continues for Chilmark resident Jonathan Haar. He faces criminal charges after he reportedly became enraged after learning the turkey had been killed and attacked the responding officers.
Mr. Haar told police he had fed the turkey, who he had named Tom, since it was an orphaned chick. After learning that Tom had been killed, he reportedly rushed patrolman Jeffrey Day and special officer Matthew Gebo and struck them several times with a closed fist.
He was charged with assault and battery on a public employee, assault and battery and resisting arrest. He is now free on bail and is scheduled to appear in Edgartown district court for a pretrial hearing June 30.
The incident began just after noon on Father’s Day, when Alissa Keenan and driver Altino DaVila from Bear Baby Equipment Rentals arrived at 27 Old Ridge Road to drop off several pieces of baby equipment for a summer family that had yet to arrive on the Island.
As they approached the home, they spotted a large male turkey in the front yard who was acting strangely and aggressively. When Mr. DaVila got out of to deliver the items, the turkey charged him, flapping its wings to gain leverage and pecking at a frenzied pace. Mr. DaVila tried to run away but the turkey chased him around the van.
The police report said the turkey was not deterred even when Ms. Keenan got out of the van and waved her arms like a larger bird and yelled out “shoo, shoo,” a technique that often works on seagulls. Mr. DaVila then got back inside the van, where he and Ms. Keenan waited as the bird circled the vehicle and continued to peck at the windows
In an interview, Ms. Keenan said that in her 25 years of living on the Island, she had never seen such an aggressive turkey. “I was freaked out by the thing. I didn’t know if it was sick or rabid or just crazy, but it was really a weird turkey,” she said.
Ms. Keenan said she used her cell phone to call the Island communications center to alert the police, largely because she was worried the large and aggressive bird might harm the young children for whom they were making the delivery. They waited a brief time to see if the bird would go away, and then decided to push the delivery out of a window and leave it there.
Patrolman Day and special officer Gebo responded to the call for help at 12:26 p.m. and arrived to find the rental baby equipment lying in a pile in the driveway. Almost immediately they were approached by the same turkey which acted more and more aggressive as it got closer. Mr. Day said in his report he returned to the pile of equipment where the turkey chased him around some chairs three times while trying to peck him.
Mr. Gebo said he jumped up onto the cruiser’s push bumper for protection. Mr. Day then kicked at the bird, which backed up and charged him again.
“I then drew my service firearm,” Mr. Day wrote in his report. “I circled around a few more times to make sure there were no vehicles, people or buildings in the background. I wanted until the bird was within four feet and I had an angle directly into the ground . . . I then fired two shots at the bird.”
The shots did not kill the turkey, however, and it ran from the driveway to the edge of the front lawn while the officers chased behind on foot. When Mr. Day again got within four feet of the bird he fired two more shots, causing the animal to die.
The officers then heard voices from the woods, and were approached by a man shouting obscenities and insults at them and who demanded to know what was going on.
“What are you, an idiot? Stop shooting at my turkeys,” the man said, according to the police report.
According to the report, the man, later identified as Mr. Haar, approached Mr. Gebo and struck him around the mouth with a closed first. Mr. Gebo then tried to restrain Mr. Haar, who reportedly resisted and managed to strike the officers in the chest and thigh. The two officers then got Mr. Haar under control and place him in handcuffs. He was brought to the Dukes County jail for processing.
Mr. Haar could not be reached by phone yesterday, but in a published report he disputed some of the facts in the police report and questioned the manner in which police handled the situation.
Chilmark Police Chief Timothy Rich this week said the two officers complied with all department policies and handled the situation appropriately. He noted that if they had chosen to ignore the bird and it later injured someone, the department would have been liable for damages.
“Just think of a different scenario. What if the officers just got back in the cruiser and drove away and the bird attacks a small child? Then we would have been on the hot seat. These officers assessed the situation and responded accordingly . . . they did their jobs,” the chief said.
He also noted that it is illegal in Massachusetts to trap and relocate a problem animal, because all you are doing is moving a problem from one area to another. When the officers responded to the call and encountered the belligerent bird, they really had no choice but to humanely euthanize the animal, the chief said.
As an extra precaution, Chief Rich said he had Sgt. John Klaren investigate whether Officer Day discharged his firearm properly. Sergeant Klaren’s investigation revealed that all police procedures and protocols were followed properly.
Chief Rich also said the officers did a good job of detaining Mr. Haar without harming him or making the situation worse.
“They peacefully restrained a man who physically attacked two uniformed police officers and then resisted arrest. Frankly, the response by Mr. Haar was disturbing. I think the officers handled it well,” he said.
As for what caused the turkey to become so quarrelsome, the answers may never be known. In the meantime, some Islanders are being a little more leery around wild turkeys.
“I passed by a turkey yesterday with my kids in the car, and we slowed down and sort of watched to see what it would do,” Ms. Keenan said. “I never really thought much about them before, because I never heard of one attacking anyone like that. But now I will at least keep an eye on them.”