No chickens in Atwater and no discipline for police chief

By Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune There will be no backyard chickens allowed in Atwater and there will be no discipline of the Atwater police chief after he killed a little boy's pet chicken that was being kept in town against the current c...

By Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

There will be no backyard chickens allowed in Atwater and there will be no discipline of the Atwater police chief after he killed a little boy’s pet chicken that was being kept in town against the current city ordinance.Th

After listening to public comments and taking a straw poll of the nearly 30 residents at the meeting Wednesday, the Atwater City Council agreed not to pursue a proposed ordinance that would have allowed people to keep up to five chickens in their backyard.

Citing concerns about smell, disease and attracting rats to town, a majority of people at the meeting objected to allowing backyard chickens.

Several people spoke in favor of changing the ordinance as a way for people to raise their own eggs. And with a feed mill just a block away from the community center where the meeting was held, rats are already in town, Krista Wallin said.


“It’s time to move on,” said Councilman Shane Hagstrom, after hearing comments from those that opposed and supported backyard chickens.

The lack of action on the proposed ordinance puts to rest an issue that started early this spring when the council agreed to research a request made by several families to allow backyard chickens.

Before any action could be taken on an ordinance, Hagstrom said, those individuals started raising chickens in their backyards.

“And then everything blew up,” Hagstrom said Wednesday.

That blow-up included a red hen that got out of its coop.

The police had earlier warned Ashley Turnbull that the three chickens and two ducks, which belonged to Turnbull’s 5-year-old son Phoenix, had to go.

Responding to a neighbor’s complaint on Aug. 7 that a chicken was loose, Police Chief Trevor Berger went to Turnbull’s home. No one was home at the time. After failing to capture the chicken himself, Berger killed the bird by clubbing it with a shovel. The severed head was left behind near the small backyard chicken coop.

Turnbull had filed a formal complaint against Berger for trespassing and cruelty to animals.


Atwater Mayor Mark Olson announced at the meeting Wednesday that Turnbull had withdrawn the complaint last month.

Turnbull was not present at the meeting Wednesday, and Berger had previously apologized for how he handled the situation.

Olson asked the council members if they wanted to pursue any disciplinary action against the police chief.

Councilman Gary Tagtow made a motion that “some type” of action should be pursued, adding that he thought Berger should take an anger management class.

“He lost his temper that night,” Tagtow said.

The motion died for lack of a second.

At that point, a member of the audience said Berger should be given a “commendation” for his actions.

After the story of the chicken being killed was first published in early September in the West Central Tribune, a group based in Machipongo, Va., called United Poultry Concerns and a Minneapolis organization called Chicken Run Rescue launched a campaign calling for Berger to be prosecuted for violating the Minnesota statute barring cruelty to animals.


The groups also urged the Atwater City Council to reject any ordinance allowing chickens, citing concern that if the town’s own police chief can commit a crime against an animal, then Atwater residents may do the same.

“What message does law enforcement send to Atwater residents when a police officer is not held accountable for his violent crime, and is actually treated publicly as if he did a good thing by beating to death a small, helpless bird with a shovel?” said the letter, which was sent to city officials and the media last month.

“Humane citizens do not beat helpless animals to death or support those who do,” said the letter-writers, who also urged the council not to approve an ordinance out of concern that a lack of education about how to care for chickens could result in animals being poorly cared for.

Neighbors had complained that the poultry in Turnbull’s backyard were kept in muddy and unsanitary conditions.

Based on comments at the meeting Wednesday, it was clear people did not want their police officers spending time monitoring chicken coops when there are other ordinances being violated.

People cited concerns about unlicensed vehicles, junk in backyards, rundown buildings and unlicensed dogs and cats.

The police have enough to do without “chasing chickens,” Al Brower said.

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