Ex-Corrections officer charged in his pet dog's torture and killing in Saginaw Co.

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A former state corrections officer and former Genesee County sheriff's deputy has been charged in connection with torturing and killing his dog, the county's top cop announced this week.

Jacob Wilkinson was arraigned Tuesday in Saginaw County Circuit Court on one count of second-degree animal torture/killing, records show.

Wilkinson, who previously worked for the Michigan Department of Corrections, faces up to seven years in prison, Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson said in a Facebook update Wednesday.

Habs, the dog at the center of the charges.

He had only been with the county office 42 days when he was fired as a result of the charge, Swanson added.

"This isn't the first time that we've held our staff here accountable. It's not the first time that we've arrested our own," Swanson said. "I've been elected as the sheriff to hold this office accountable to the people and I'm gonna continue to do that."

Authorities started investigating after road crews found a dog's remains in Tittabawasee Township in Saginaw County, Swanson said.

A necropsy determined the dog, named Habs, had been shot three times, the sheriff said. Media reports said the dog had been shot in the head. The dog's front and rear legs as well its muzzle had also been duct-taped.

A microchip led to an address in Saginaw and Wilkinson, he said.

An attorney representing Wilkinson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Jacobson attended a preliminary examination conference Monday in 70th District Court in Saginaw County via Zoom, according to court staff. No new hearings have yet been scheduled in the matter. 

Habs was part of the Blue Star service program that helps military veterans, and Wilkinson adopted the animal after working to train it through MDOC in Saginaw County, Swanson said.

Wilkinson told investigators he bound the dog with duct tape after a nail-trimming incident in September or October last year, Swanson said.

"That dog nipped at him and he tortured it and he killed it and he left it for dead."

Wilkinson served in the National Guard, was a combat veteran and studied psychology at Saginaw Valley State University.

He never disclosed the incident to county officials when applying for his job last year or undergoing a psychological evaluation, Swanson said.

Saginaw County Animal Care & Control Director Bonnie Kanicki alerted Swanson about the probe. The sheriff said he allowed Wilkinson to be questioned immediately in what he called a "horrific, horrendous murder."

"He confessed everything," Swanson said. "He was immediately terminated."

At his arraignment, Wilkinson was ordered not to possess firearms or animals. Bond was set at $10,000. A hearing is scheduled for May 9.

His case has alarmed animal advocates. Candace Shellnut, who leads Sterling's Legacy, a group that formed after a Macomb County pit bull mix was slain in 2019, this week launched a Change.org petition calling for stricter punishment. It has collected more than 2,000 signatures.

She hopes keeping the case in the public eye leads to stronger penalties for animal abuse.

"I'm just disgusted," Shellnut said Thursday. "I cannot believe a human would do that to another living being."

mhicks@detroitnews.com