Man faces jail time in dog's spray-painting

The accused, who marks utility lines, says he was just defending himself.

A contractor hired to mark gas lines with orange paint is facing 12 months in jail if he is convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Dario Harris is accused of spraying florescent orange paint on a barking black lab mix that was in a fenced backyard.

Harris said he "reacted to the dog coming to the gate and scaring me. It wasn't anything intentional. I wasn't out to do any harm. I was just doing my job."

The DeKalb County resident, who had a DeKalb State Court hearing on the charge Tuesday, said by phone Wednesday that he was afraid of the dog.

"The dog was tall enough to jump the fence. It was a 50-50 chance he would," Harris said. "I love dogs. I had two Rottweilers when I was young. ... I was just trying to protect myself."

Owner Jeffrey Tompkins, who also spoke by phone Wednesday, said the dog, Bear, was a stray he found with five other newborn puppies four years ago. He said the animal was not a threat, especially since it was behind a fence.

Tompkins said there were "seven individual spray marks" low on the fence about the height of the dog's eyes.

"It wasn't like he just sprayed one time across," Tompkins said Wednesday. "He [Harris] went up to the fence. He had no reason to go in the backyard."

Harris works for a utility line-marking company hired by DeKalb County. He was assigned to mark underground gas lines, using a paint sprayer at the end of a pole, in preparation for scheduled digging along a residential street in Stone Mountain.

Tompkins, who was working at home, went outside when he heard Bear barking and saw a truck driving away. A few minutes later, he found his dog rubbing her eyes with her front paws. He called police. An investigation led authorities to Harris.

A veterinarian flushed Bear's eyes and provided antibiotics. Harris said he would repay Tompkins for the vet expenses as a result of the March incident.

"I admit the dog was barking at him real good, but she was in her territory," Tompkins said. "She's not dangerous, but she's going to bark. ... To me, it was malicious."

Harris, who said is in the Army Reserves, wore his uniform to the DeKalb court hearing because, he said, he just left his "job at the unit."

"This is making me out to be a criminal," Harris said. "I'm not."