Head of controversial dog warehouse arrested after outburst

FORKS, Wash. -- A tense standoff between the man who runs a controversial animal shelter and outraged dog lovers who claim he's horribly neglecting the animals turned violent Thursday morning.

It's the latest development following our KOMO 4 Problem Solver investigation into what has been called a "Sanctuary of Sorrow."

Steve Markwell, the man who runs the Olympic Animal Sanctuary, was arrested Thursday morning when Fork police say he kicked and pounded on the legally parked car of a protester across the street.

Three to five picketers with signs demanding "Stop the abuse" have been standing vigil outside the dog shelter this week, while many thousands across America and Europe are besieging local and state officials using social media, emails and phone calls.

Emotions on both sides of this controversy have been rising for months and ignited before daylight Thursday morning. Cellphone video shot by protester Maggie McDowell show Markwell arriving to the Forks warehouse.

"And it's Mr. Markwel," McDowell can be heard saying quietly. She'd arrived for another day of peaceful picketing outside the dog facility.

Seconds later, while still several yards from her car, McDowell become afraid for her safety, she says, when she saw Markwell approaching her car. She said she scrambled into the safety of her car, which was parked legally on the side of the road.

Her report to police says Markwell began kicking and damaging a corner of her car, pounding on her windshield and screaming obscenities. McDowell says she was so afraid that she had difficulty dialing 911. By chance, Forks police Sgt. Mike Rowley happened to be driving by on duty and witnessed part of the incident, McDowell said.

Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon said Markwell was arrested on suspicion of third degree malicious mischief and released. The mayor said the city could not supply a copy of the police report immediately because City Attorney Rod Fleck was not available.

Late Thursday, Markwell emailed KOMO 4 this statement: "Placing me or my property under 24-hour surveillance is not protesting, it is stalking."

The Olympic Animal Sanctuary generally accepts dogs that have been deemed dangerous and would otherwise be euthanized.

The anger over conditions in the shelter continue to ratchet upward, and led to a 20-person protest in Forks last month. The mostly out-of-town protesters were not well received by some local residents who told them to go home.

At a recent town hall meeting, McDowell and others scolded local city and county officials for failing to stop what they consider horrific mistreatment of approximately 125 dogs photographed by a Forks police officer last year inside the sanctuary. Markwell have refused to let police or nearly anyone else inside the warehouse in recent months to independently verify current conditions.

Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon has said repeatedly yet calmly that the city does not have the "teeth" in its local laws and hasn't the budget to fight a big legal battle especially given that the dogs are not a public safety issue.

The mayor says the city, threatened with a lawsuit by Markwell's attorney, doesn't have enough probable cause to get a new search warrant, despite the year-old police photos and new complaints of foul odors and noise emanating from the warehouse.

"My opinion is, they're pure cowards," said New York lawyer Susan Chana Lask, who says she's taken on the case voluntarily.

Lask says Markwell's non-profit animal charity is failing to do its stated job.

"So when he collects money under the premise that he's giving shelter and sanctuary," she said, "for me, in my opinion, that is a fraud - plain and simple."

Indeed, one of Markwell's major donors is suing him, alleging he failed to use her $50,000 donation to move out of the dilapidated warehouse as she says he promised.

"I found out he added many more dogs," said Sherie Maddox of Port Angeles. "And that made me furious."

Other lawsuits against Markwell are now in the works. And Lask, the New York attorney, said the recent arrest of protester Tamira Thayne for violating a restraining order has now been partly overturned.

But Markwell supporters say he needs help and money to fix things - not protests. Opponents across America say Markwell had help for years but is just not capable.

Many of the top local and national animal welfare leaders say the situation in Forks is comparable to many others they've seen elsewhere in which a well-intentioned animal lover is unable to achieve a grand vision yet unwilling to recognize failure.

Markwell's lawyer did not immediately returned our inquiries seeking comment.