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Dave Roepke, Published November 13 2010

Cruelty suspect not found in Denver

The manager of a Fergus Falls, Minn., animal shelter apologized Friday for releasing false information about the search for a man accused of slitting his dog’s throat for chasing a car.

Ericka Stoltenberg, shelter manager for the Otter Tail County Humane Society, told many area news outlets on Thursday – The Forum among them – that Benjamin James Stavaas had recently been picked up by Denver police.

Stavaas, 23, of Battle Lake, Minn., faces six animal cruelty charges linked to the alleged knifing in June, including two felonies. He missed a July 26 Otter Tail County District Court date in Fergus Falls, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Stoltenberg said Thursday that a private investigator hired to help look for Stavaas told her he was detained in Denver but wasn’t returned to Fergus Falls because the arrest warrant applied in neighboring states only.

That’s not true, Lt. Matt McGuire of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office said on Friday.

McGuire said that on Nov. 5 a detective with the sheriff’s office spoke with a woman who is thought to have left town with Stavaas. Her car was towed in Denver, and deputies were called because her car was flagged as being linked to Stavaas.

The Otter Tail detective told the woman to wait for Denver police to arrive, but when they did, she refused to cooperate, McGuire said.

McGuire said the Otter Tail County warrant applies nationwide, as does a Wadena County, Minn., warrant connected to 2006 convictions for terroristic threats and domestic assault. Stavaas had been on probation for the earlier charges before absconding.

Stoltenberg apologized on Friday and said the private investigator gave the shelter false information.

“It’s just very frustrating. We thought we had it verified,” she said.

The case has attracted interest from animal supporters who have said they would like Stavaas, if he’s convicted, to be sentenced to the maximum two years in prison on the felonies.

Authorities allege the 23-year-old admitted he knifed Star, his German shepherd mix, and left the dog to die. The dog had surgery and is now staying at the humane society shelter.

McGuire said Otter Tail County deputies have been actively seeking Stavaas.

“We’ve been following up on leads all along,” he said.

Stoltenberg said shelter officials are pleased to find out they were wrong about the nature of the warrant and are encouraged police now have a tip on where Stavaas might be.

“It makes us feel quite a bit better,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535