Ham Lake man, patrol dog dead in standoff

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2009 - 9:58 PM

SWAT team moved in after 16 hours of talks. It's not yet known if the man shot himself.

Anoka County sheriff’s dog, Rocky.

A Ham Lake man was found shot to death in his house Thursday after a 16-hour standoff that culminated with a SWAT team storming the residence behind a patrol dog, which was killed during an ensuing exchange of gunfire.

Authorities say an autopsy will reveal whether the man, identified by friends and neighbors as 70-year-old Theodore Kowalzek, shot himself or was killed by a SWAT team officer who returned the gunfire that authorities say killed Rocky, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois that served as a patrol dog for five years.

"I know the Anoka County Sheriff's Office believes that Rocky is a hero and that he saved the lives of their deputies; he went in first," said Andy Skoogman, spokesman for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is heading the investigation. "It's cliché, but he paid the ultimate price. They're very shaken up in Anoka County about this."

Authorities would not release the name of the officer who fired at Kowalzek.

Those who knew Kowalzek, a father and grandfather who was a regular at a local bar, were left Thursday to try to comprehend the actions of a man known to shoot his guns almost every day and attract a lot of visits from police.

"The cops have always been over at Ted's house; there's always been problems there," said neighbor Karla Jesinoski, who arrived home at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to find the neighborhood blocked off. "I've been here for 31 years, and it's been going on for 31 years. The cops know him upside down."

According to records, Kowalzek had multiple convictions, including driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an injury accident and implied consent test refusal.

'I'm completely shocked'

But Todd Chester, owner of the Route 65 Bar and Grill in East Bethel, where Kowalzek stopped most days and was known as "Teddy," said he wasn't a violent man.

"He never brought harm to anybody," said Chester.

"Everyone who knew him knew he was a good guy. ... Something must have pushed his buttons, and I'm completely shocked that it ended this way."

Skoogman said the standoff began about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday when county deputies accompanied a man who was attempting to get his car back from the homeowner, identified by neighbors as Kowalzek.

While they were at the residence at 17717 Concord Drive NE., a gunshot was heard "coming from the direction of the home," Skoogman said. Deputies surrounded the house, and as the hours passed authorities tried multiple times to talk Kowalzek out.

He didn't surrender even after officers fired tear gas into the home. Finally, early Thursday, the SWAT team went in, led by K-9 Rocky. Capt. Dave Jenkins of the Sheriff's Office said he thought the dog "protected the officers by drawing [Kowalzek's] fire."

Skoogman said, "Shots were fired, fatally wounding the dog. One SWAT team officer returned fire, and they moved out of the house." Skoogman said the dog died inside the house.

After more attempts to contact Kowalzek went unanswered, they entered the house again to find him dead of a gunshot wound.

Jenkins said Rocky was one of the department's six K-9s and was trained as an "apprehension dog." He said the dog's death is especially hard on his law enforcement handler and the handler's family. But Jenkins also offered this perspective:

"The fortunate thing here is we're talking about an animal, and at the end of the day, these animals are trained to do what they do. They're an instrument; they're a tool, and what's important is that we're not talking about an officer going down."

The standoff resulted in the lockdown of the neighborhood of about two dozen houses on large parcels.

Some neighbors arrived home to find a blocked street and flashing lights. They were allowed to come and go from their homes only with law enforcement escorts.

Chester said Kowalzek fired guns on his property every day and was known for driving his tractor or Bobcat to the bar. He was hardworking, always had grease on his hands and never hesitated to help a friend, Chester said.

"I don't think he handled it right or the cops did," Chester said.

"Why didn't [police] call someone? There was 32 people I think that could have talked him out of this, but that's one side. The other side is that when they come looking for you, whether you're right or wrong, you come out."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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