COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Rainbow Gatherings, Mama Rocket, Zeus, meth, marijuana, transients, pit bulls and Commerce City’s laws against the breed all seem to have played a role in a 19-month-old nearly getting his jaw ripped off, a dog being killed by police officers and a 51-year-old ending up in jail this week.
FOX31 Denver first started putting the pieces together in this complicated and convoluted story on Monday night, after getting an exclusive interview with Sue Tacket, the woman who was jailed after Zeus, her 90-pound pit bull, attacked a 19-month-old in Commerce City.
“The one thing about this whole situation is: Why am I here?” Tacket said. “I have never been in trouble in my life. Why am I sitting in jail?”
The short answer to that question was given by Commerce City Police spokesperson Chris Dickey, who said Tacket was charged with a state-level misdemeanor for bringing a pit bull into Commerce City, where that particular breed of dog has been banned completely.
Though she acknowledged the law, Tacket said that considering she had been in Colorado for less than four days, she didn’t even realize she was in Commerce City, let alone that the city had a pit bull ban.
“Don’t you think they should put up signs or billboards?” Tacket asked. “I would have left as soon as I saw something like that.”
Many might consider that to be an unreasonable request. The same might not be said about Tacket’s next inquiry — “Did they really have to kill my dog?” – especially considering the Commerce City Police Department’scontroversial history with pit bulls.
Dickey’s response to that question was also concise, but not unsympathetic. He called the death of Tacket’s pit bull, which asphyxiated and died after three officers hooked catch poles around its neck, a “very unfortunate ending.”
“But we have to look at the overall circumstances of this situation,” Dickey continued. “We had a dog that out of the blue attacked a toddler and caused some substantial injuries to the child’s face. And in the course of trying to contain this animal, it took three full-grown officers to get this dog under control.”
That’s where the story starts to get fuzzy.
Tacket insists that Zeus did not attack the child out of the blue. And in fact, she believes her dog may have been provoked.
The responsible parties to whom Tacket attributed blame included the mother of the child her dog attacked. Tacket referred to that woman as Mama Rocket.
According to Tacket, both she and Mama Rocket were part of separate transient groups camping out in a King Soopers parking lot at 4850 E. 62nd Avenue on Sunday night. Neither party’s urban campsite was illegal in and of itself, Dickey explained, because Commerce City business owners have the authority to determine whether to allow camping in their parking lots.
If she had to do it over again, Tacket may have set up camp elsewhere – not only because of the dog attack, but because of an altercation the night before.
Tacket said the two groups had come to share the same parking lot campsite after meeting up at a nearby “Rainbow Gathering.” These well-documented gatherings are hosted across the country, often on an annual basis. Colorado is a popular place for such gatherings, considering the first recorded Rainbow Gathering took place in 1972 near the small town of Paonia.
The night before the dog attack, Tacket said her boyfriend, who she identified only as Ronnie, had been drinking and pulled a knife on her. Eventually, Tacket said Ronnie kicked her in the stomach, which led to a fight between him and several onlookers from the other transient camp.
After that, Tacket said Ronnie “tried to run all of us over with his motorhome and then took off.” Tacket said as of Monday, Ronnie was still on the run because he was “wanted” by police.
Dickey confirmed that officers had been dispatched to a “completely unrelated incident” at the same camp the night before the dog attack, but said they had issued no arrests and were not on the lookout for Ronnie.
“No one was even sought out for questioning,” Dickey said.
The morning after the incident with her boyfriend and a night sleeping on the asphalt, Tacket said she woke up early Monday and started “flying” her sign, which read “It’s just me and my dog. We need help. God Bless.”
Tacket said she first started needing help five years ago, shortly after she met Ronnie. At the time, she said she had a car, a home and two pit bulls.
“Then I started doing meth,” Tacket said. “That’s why I currently weigh 79 pounds.”
It was Tacket’s 90-pound pit bull named Zeus that she said inspired her to quit meth nearly 90 days ago.
Now Zeus, who Tacket said she has raised since he fit in the palm of her hand as a puppy, is dead. And she’s not entirely ready to blame the animal nor herself for that.
Instead, she points to the company she was keeping Monday.
Tacket said there were two transient groups in the parking lot campground that day, as well as another pit bull. The group who owned the second pit bull “kept moving that dog closer to Zeus,” Tacket said, insisting their dog would win if it were to engage Zeus in a fight.
Tacket said she began to worry at that point there was also a toddler at the campsite, who she referred to as Tristan. Furthermore, Tacket said, the man who was supposed to be watching the toddler “was drunk” and “the baby was running in between both dogs.”
Despite her hesitations, Tacket said she wasn’t worried about Zeus because the dog had often been around children, including newborns and the child he later attacked.
“Tristan had been hugging Zeus and kissing him on the nose all day,” Tacket said. “And Zeus would just do his little goofy laugh.”
That was why Tacket said she felt comfortable enough leaving her dog tied to a tree while she went inside the King Soopers to use the restroom.
“When I came back, Zeus was on the ground, and they said that the baby had been hurt,” Tacket said. “I just didn’t know what to think, other than that if I had been there, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Shortly after telling police she was Zeus’ owner, Tacket was arrested. The next day, she called her friend Charles Stermer, asking for his help in posting a $1,500 bond, which a judge established Tuesday morning after deeming Tacket a flight risk.
Stermer, who said he’s known Tacket since she was 19, arrived in Commerce City later than morning and shook his head about whether he’d be able to post his friend’s bond.
“It cost a lot of money to get here from Pennsylvania, and I’m retired,” Stermer said. “I don’t make a whole lot of money now, so that’s going to be tough for me.”
Stermer suspects it would be an even tougher sum of money for Tacket to come up with, considering she “hasn’t worked in a long, long time.”
Though neither he nor Tacket would disclose what condition she suffers from, Stermer said Tacket is “basically dying” and that she receives disability assistance from the government. Tacket later said she receives $1,000 a month in disability payments.
While she may or may not be off meth, Stermer said he suspects Tacket is using marijuana. In fact, he believes it’s a big reason the woman he’s known since she was 19 eventually ended up in Colorado, where the drug is now legal.
“She likes smoking pot,” Stermer said. “It eases her mind, and helps her deal with her health issues.”
And it’s not a new behavior.
When Tacket was living with Stermer at his residences in Pennsylvania and Virginia, he said she had a prescription for Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is also known as Marinol. The pill is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer medications, and also used to increase the appetite of those who suffer from immunodeficiency syndrome.
But considering Marinol is manufactured as a capsule containing sesame oil and THC, the same active ingredient in marijuana, taking the tablet can produce a similar high.
Sitting in jail Monday night, it did not seem Tacket was completely clearheaded, fighting through tears and often times telling conflicting stories. But she seemed very coherent when talking about her feelings for her deceased pet.
“Everybody says that I wasn’t worried about the child. I am,” Tacket said. “But you’ve got to understand that Zeus was my child. He wasn’t just a dog, he was my family. He was all I had. ”
Though he seemed disappointed in the animal’s death, Dickey was admittedly much more concerned about the injured toddler, who is expected to make a full — if lengthy – recovery after extensive reconstructive surgery.
Whether it’s reasonable or unreasonable, Dickey knows his department will receive some manner of public disparaging for the handling of this incident.
“As police officers, we’re open to receive criticism for anything that we do, regardless of whether we do things by the book,” he said. “Obviously we can’t prevent that, but we can do our best to mitigate that. And the way we do that is by following policies and procedures that we’ve set forth.”
Dickey went on to say the department will review the dog attack to make sure those policies were followed and to determine if those policies regarding dog attack response should remain in place.
As for Tacket, she has another court date on July 22. If convicted of the misdemeanor offense of bringing a pit bull into Commerce City, she may be assessed a fine or a short jail sentence.
In the midst of the uncertainty, Tacket said she knows one thing for sure.
“This is one state I don’t ever want to come back to,” she said.