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If There’s a Moral to This Story, It Won’t Help Squawk

It happened late afternoon on Tuesday as Dennis McIntyre, a 47-year-old self-employed soap and cleaning-products manufacturer, was driving his pickup south on Jamboree Road in Newport Beach. He was alone except for his 4-year-old cat, Squawk.

McIntyre’s version: Another driver cut quickly into his lane and then braked, forcing McIntyre to jam on his brakes as he approached the intersection at Eastbluff Drive. Missing the car by inches and fuming, McIntyre got out of his car at the red light and approached the guy to lecture him on driving. He yanked at the man’s car door but it was locked.

Knowing he didn’t have much time between light changes, McIntyre acknowledges that he called the guy names. “I was very vocal,” McIntyre said. “I don’t believe in letting things ride.” The driver never rolled down his window, never said a word to him and McIntyre was back in his car by the time the light turned green, he said.

With McIntyre now back in his car, he said the driver ahead made the universal obscene gesture at him. He drove off and signaled a left turn farther down Jamboree at Santa Barbara Drive. Annoyed at being given the finger, McIntyre, 6 feet and 240 pounds, decided to follow the guy, who was dressed in shorts and T-shirt and wearing a baseball cap on backward. Figuring the guy was a “punk,” McIntyre said, he had no other plans when he followed him other than “to worry him.”

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However, the driver pulled into the Newport Beach Police Department parking lot where, McIntyre says, he assumed the guy went to feel safer.

Instead, the driver turned out to be Mark Hamilton, an off-duty Newport Beach police officer on his way to work.

Let me leave you there for a moment and submit Hamilton’s version of events thus far, as relayed by police spokesman Sgt. Andy Gonis:

Hamilton made a safe lane change in front of McIntyre, who for some reason took offense at it. McIntyre came to the driver’s side, and using “gross obscenities,” berated Hamilton and also threatened bodily harm. McIntyre also slammed his fist into the car door, Gonis said. Not wanting to create a scene in traffic, Hamilton showed McIntyre his badge and instructed him to follow him to the nearby Police Department where they could talk things over, Gonis said. Hamilton did not arrest McIntyre at the scene, Gonis said.

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McIntyre insists that Hamilton never showed him a badge and that the two didn’t exchange any words because Hamilton never rolled down his window. He says he followed Hamilton only because he made the gesture at him.

Now, back in the police parking lot, McIntyre upbraided Hamilton again but soon learned that he was going to be arrested. Meanwhile, officers told him that they had to get his cat and send it to an animal shelter where all confiscated pets are taken.

McIntyre asked to get the animal, but police said no. He told them his wife was five minutes away and could get the cat, but they said no.

Instead, for the next hour or so, police and an animal control officer tried to get the cat. First, it escaped from the truck cab and climbed a 30- to 40-foot palm tree. The first ladder was too short, so a longer, second ladder was used as the frightened cat rested out of reach.

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Watching all this from the back of the squad car, McIntyre says police, while using the long stick-like device used to ensnare animals, poked the cat out of its lofty perch and knocked it to the ground. Police insist that the cat jumped out of the tree into bushes below.

The authorities finally caught the cat and took it to the shelter. X-rays revealed that the cat had a broken jaw and a lung bruise. McIntyre and his wife, Connie, took the cat to an animal hospital, where the vet told them that the cat had gone into cardiac arrest. Later that night, the cat died.

My question: Who’s responsible for the dead cat?

I warned McIntyre, who called me, that most people wouldn’t feel any sympathy for him because of his street antics, but he still wanted his story told. He’s convinced that the police could have easily let him or his wife get the cat but decided “to teach me a lesson and they took it out on my cat.”

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“I screwed up to start it off,” McIntyre said. “Honking my horn at the guy should have been enough. That’s where it should have stopped, OK? But I couldn’t. I had to get out of my car and say something to him, tell him what I thought of the way he was driving. What if there’d been a baby with me?”

My guess is many of you are thinking, McIntyre got what he deserved. But, let’s just suppose. . . .

McIntyre insists that Hamilton never spoke to him or told him he was a cop. Yet the police report now includes both those elements, according to Gonis. I asked myself why McIntyre wouldn’t own up to those elements, if they’re true, inasmuch as his major bone of contention is not that he was arrested but how the cops treated his cat.

I also have to ask myself, since McIntyre had obviously cooled down and was in police custody and his truck had been checked for weapons, why he couldn’t have been allowed to get the cat out of the truck. Gonis said that would have amounted to “taking a risk,” although McIntyre said he was standing around uncuffed for at least 10 minutes while officers tried in vain to get Squawk.

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As for whether Squawk jumped or was pushed, who knows? McIntyre says he saw the whole thing and that the cat was pushed; Gonis, going on the accounts of police who were there, steadfastly denies it.

My interest in all this is the subtext. What happens when it comes down to the word of police versus the word of the citizen? How do you know who to believe?

I just know this wasn’t worth the death of poor old Squawk.

And my only other thought is, what I wouldn’t give to have the whole thing on videotape.

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