A mother of three alleges her neighbor has stabbed her dog, splattered her car with paint and regularly shouts racial slurs at her in her relatively quiet Hammond neighborhood.
Dawn McDowell, who lives in the 6300 block of Jefferson Avenue, said, “Enough is enough.”
Now police said behavior of the neighbor, Ronald Wojtas, is captured on video, and the suspect could face possible charges and court proceedings for allegedly violating a protective order.
On Jan. 10, as soon as McDowell opened her car door, she said she heard Wojtas shouting racial insults at her from his porch.
McDowell used her phone to record Wojtas espousing N-word-laced rants toward her, including that the KKK would be coming and that black people would be killed.
The Times has reviewed the video, which seems to back McDowell's claims.
Shane O'Donnell, Wojtas' attorney, said he did not know about the incident and had no further comment on the matter. However, he said his client has been a law-abiding citizen all of his life and that McDowell's prior allegations are not true.
McDowell said the longstanding conflict with her neighbor stems from a day she will never forget.
On the afternoon of Oct. 16, 2017, McDowell said she received a phone call from her daughter, who was crying and saying their dog, a white and light brown pit bull named Sasha, was gone from their yard.
McDowell recalled an animal control agent telling her over the phone, “Ma'am, you need to get here. Your dog was brutally stabbed.”
“I get there, and she (the dog) has seven stab wounds and a knife lodged in her back,” McDowell said.
Wojtas had told animal control agents and his attorney that McDowell's dog had dug in the dirt under the fence, entered his yard and attacked him and his dog.
Upon inspection, McDowell said neither she nor animal control investigators found a dug-out hole near the fence.
She alleged that unless her neighbor either took her dog from her yard or went onto her property, her dog had no way of getting into Wojtas' yard.
“It rained two days before, so if she dug under the fence, she would've been filthy,” McDowell said. “She's light brown, has white feet, and she was perfectly clean. All she had were stab wounds all over her back. The veterinarian checked her mouth and said she had clean teeth and clean gums, no blood of any sort.”
Veterinarians told McDowell the knife narrowly missed Sasha's lungs. The dog made a full recovery.
Wojtas sued McDowell in Lake Superior Court for vet and medical bills, in which he presented photos of his hand that had scratches on it and his dog that had deep wounds on its thigh.
McDowell counter-sued Wojtas and presented photos of her dog, the knife, police reports and both backyards.
On Jan. 17, 2018, the judge ruled in favor of Wojtas, ordering McDowell to pay him $3,482.70 in restitution, according to court documents. McDowell said her dog's medical bills amounted to $3,280.
On June 5, Wojtas entered an order for garnishment of McDowell's wages, and on Dec. 14, 2018, McDowell filed a notice of bankruptcy.
“From that day forth, he's been giving me hell ever since,” McDowell said.
On June 13, McDowell called police because Wojtas allegedly was shooting off rounds from his shotgun.
“The next day, I open my door, the first thing as I look at my car is peach-colored paint thrown all over my car,” McDowell said.
On Dec. 18, 2017, after letting her two dogs out in her fenced backyard, McDowell told police she saw her neighbor in his yard, picking up what appeared to be a shell and loading a shotgun.
“She further stated that after putting the shells in the gun, he began yelling at her, making threats how he was going to shoot her dog if he caught her dog at his home or in his yard,” Lake County court records allege.
McDowell provided police with a photo of Wojtas in his backyard with a shotgun during the incident.
Wojtas was charged with felony intimidation as a result, Lake County court records show.
However, O'Donnell, Wojtas' attorney, said the allegations against Wojtas are 100 percent false.
"The neighbors' feud began when my client's neighbor's dog had attacked him and his dog on his property," O'Donnell said.
Because Wojtas was afraid of the incident happening again, O'Donnell said he kept a gun outside for protection.
"He had every right to be outside and have a legally obtained shotgun, for which he has a valid license for," O'Donnell said. "Because (McDowell) doesn't like my client, she called the police and said he threatened her with the gun, which isn't true."
In a pretrial agreement filed Sept. 20, the prosecutor's office agreed to withhold prosecution on the intimidation charge if Wojtas abided by a “no contact” order.
If authorities find Wojtas in violation of that protection order, he could be brought back to court on the intimidation charge, according to legal procedure.
“The victim called police in late 2017 for crimes related to the suspect threatening her with a shotgun and threatening harm to her dog,” Hammond Lt. Steve Kellogg said. “He was charged with felony intimidation at that time and placed in a no contact order.
"He has violated that order, and based on recent remarks he made in video, Hammond police detectives are investigating the crimes and deciding if filing additional charges is an option at this time," Kellogg added. "Detectives are working closely with the victim to ensure that everything possible is done to stop this criminal behavior.”
'I don't have plans on going anywhere else'
Even with the neighbor conflict, McDowell said she's standing her ground.
McDowell is a full-time working, single mother with three children, including a 17-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old son and an 11-month old girl. She moved from Chicago to Hammond in 2011 to anchor her family.
“I'm a very family-oriented person, and I moved out here because I heard nothing but good about Hammond and it being family-oriented and the mayor and what he does for the community,” McDowell said. “I like it here. I don't have any plans of going anywhere else, and I refuse to let somebody like him just run me out.”
McDowell said she doesn't know what the future holds but said she will remain vigilant in documenting incidents of harassment.
“Now we're into January, it's just been police report after police report,” McDowell said. “I'm a single woman, I have children here, so it's like, 'Why are you harassing me?' So enough is enough. I don't mind calling police like I'm supposed to, but a lot of times I'm tired of calling them.”