A Campo man accused of firing a shotgun into the air to chase off county personnel who were trying to rescue a neighbor’s injured emu during the huge Border Fire last week pleaded not guilty Tuesday to four felony charges.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer Constantino Zarate tries to herd an Emu off the highway near the Border Fire. Photo by Mike Blake via Reuters

They included discharging a firearm in a grossly negligent manner and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Sean Michael Shepherd, 32, faces up to five years in prison if convicted. He is free on $50,000 bail.

A Department of Animal Services worker was patrolling the perimeter of the Border Fire in the far southern reaches of San Diego County along with a video-camera operator about 6 p.m. June 20 when they got a report from a passer-by about the roaming ostrich-like flightless bird, which apparently had suffered burns, according to DAS public affairs.

The workers found the distressed emu and were approaching it when Shepherd appeared and got into an argument with them because he didn’t want them to take custody of it, officials said.

Following the exchange of words, Shepherd allegedly went into his home, returned with a shotgun and fired off several rounds, causing the county employees to retreat and make an emergency call. They were unharmed.

County personnel were unable to relocate the ailing emu, which fled following the gunfire.

California law and court decisions allow animal-control officers to enter a property without a warrant when they have a reasonable belief that prompt action is needed to protect the welfare of an animal, DAS Director Dawn Danielson noted.

“Generally, the public is very supportive of our officers in the field,” she said. “The best thing they can do to help us is to keep their distance and watch quietly. Otherwise an injured animal can get spooked and run off. Then our officer loses an opportunity to help that animal.”

Shepherd will be back in court July 6 for a readiness conference and July 12 for a preliminary hearing.

He is also charged with making threats to a public officer and possessing ammunition despite being a person who is prohibited from owning or possessing ammunition.

— City News Service