McHENRY – Locals knew to keep their distance from Michael Braun’s house on Lillian Street near McHenry West High School.
At the corner of a busy intersection, the house at 3693 N. Lillian St. had a Confederate flag flying above handwritten signs that included profane messages and taunted police, and large dogs that chased pedestrians along the fence line, barking aggressively.
Braun, a 46-year-old bearded and tattooed junkyard owner, no longer lives in the house, although he still makes payments on it. He’s facing animal cruelty charges for the second time in the past seven years.
Braun said he has a deep love of dogs that started with the first dog he owned, a German shepherd named Crash. He’s a former member of an outlaw motorcycle club and a documented member of a white supremacist prison gang who openly uses racial slurs, according to police records.
Braun said city of McHenry officials conspired to drive him out of town. Officials said it’s his treatment of his animals that has led to thousands of dollars in fines against him.
Records show complaints and incidents involving Braun have piled up over the years. The Northwest Herald reviewed hundreds of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to examine the scope of complaints about Braun’s dogs, his treatment of animals and how local agencies responded.
McHenry officials had issued more than $14,000 in animal-related fines against Braun and his girlfriend before the couple moved out of town.
Since 2002, Animal Control authorities responded to 86 activities, including calls about Braun’s dogs at his McHenry home and his business, IRC Industries, at 1614 S. River Road. Over the past 15 years, McHenry County Animal Control has issued Braun 36 citations or tickets for violations such as letting his dogs run at large. Braun’s dogs have bitten people at least three times, records show.
In 2011, Braun was convicted of animal cruelty in connection with an incident where a woman reported he threw a puppy out of a moving vehicle. He has pleaded not guilty in another animal cruelty case, in which prosecutors allege he beat one of his dogs with a garbage can lid. That case is pending.
Late this summer, after years of battling with police and animal control, Braun decided to move.
He made the decision after he and his girlfriend were hit with a total of $7,600 in municipal fines from the city of McHenry. The bulk of those fines – $5,500, according to Braun – came after authorities found Braun’s girlfriend, Jennifer Samuels, was keeping six baby chickens in their garage.
Police also charged the couple because they said Samuels owned too many dogs. The city fined Samuels $9,000 in April for having four dogs registered in her name. The city’s dog ordinance allows residents to own a maximum of three dogs. Braun and Samuels owned eight dogs between them, all of them large breeds – four mastiffs and four German shepherds, according to animal control records.
Samuels could not be reached for comment, but Braun told the Northwest Herald he rotates the dogs between his home, business and summer home in Wisconsin. A judge reduced the fine to $600, Braun said. The dog owner said he paid the fine, but city officials said otherwise.
“Michael Braun has been fined $7,600 and has paid $0.00,” Ross Polerecky, McHenry’s director of community development, said in an email.
Although Braun and his family have moved, his dogs still are causing problems elsewhere.
At Braun’s scrap metal yard, the dogs have been spotted numerous times running alone through Moraine Hills State Park, park Superintendent Greg Kelly said. Bowhunters walking through a hunting zone near Braun’s scrapyard reported coming across the dogs in the past 30 days.
“I’ve talked to some of the neighbors,” Kelly said, “and they’re sick and tired about his dogs running at large.”
Kelly has dealt with the dogs for most of the 16 years he has worked at the park. The superintendent said he wonders why Braun is allowed to have animals after years of complaints, police calls and unpaid fines.
“Animal control is fully aware of this, [but] I don’t know if they’re stretched too thin,” Kelly said. “Why is he not in jail?”
Animal control officials did everything they could to bring Braun and his dogs in compliance with the law, said Maryellen Howell, the veterinary public health manager with the McHenry County Department of Health.
Howell declined to comment on specific details about the latest animal cruelty charge against Braun.
City officials, too, said the municipality did its best to curb Braun’s canine troubles.
“The city of McHenry worked with the McHenry County Animal Control to address all complaints and violations on the property as soon as they were identified,” Polerecky said.
McHenry Police Chief John Birk talked with the Northwest Herald over the summer. He said the department was concerned about the safety and welfare of the dogs.
“I don’t see a public safety risk,” Birk said at the time. “Our biggest concern is having more dogs than allowed. That can’t continue.”
Several neighbors reached for comment declined to speak on the record about living next to Braun. All said they wanted to avoid being confronted.
On April 16, 2007, a man showed up to Braun’s scrap metal yard on River Road to drop off cardboard boxes for recycling, according to a police report.
The man couldn’t find anyone to talk to, so he walked around back, passing a sign warning of dogs.
As the man rounded the corner, a black Labrador mix named Milo jumped up and bit him, according to an incident report. The report did not describe where the dog bit the man.
A McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy described the wound as “the worst bite she has ever seen.” The deputy advised others to proceed with caution because “the dogs are vicious.”
Braun was unsympathetic, according to the report.
“The guy got what he deserved,” Braun said, according to an incident report. “The signs were clearly posted, and he shouldn’t have been on [the] property.”
The dog fight
About 3:20 p.m. April 14, McHenry police showed up to Braun’s Lillian Street house. A woman told police that someone on the property had beaten a white dog with a garbage can lid.
Officers found Braun, who told them that two of his dogs got into a fight. One dog was a 200-pound English mastiff named Betta, and the other was an 80-pound German shepherd named Lexis.
“Michael advised he did not harm the dogs in any way and only separated them,” an officer wrote in a report. “He further advised he no longer wished to speak about the incident with me, as he did nothing wrong.”
On April 17, an officer tracked down the woman who reported Braun to police and interviewed her.
“She observed a man ‘bashing a white dog repeatedly with a garbage can lid,’ ” the officer wrote. “... While the man was beating the dog with the garbage can lid, he was also kicking the dog.”
She observed blood running down the front of the dog, the report said.
The next day, the officer returned to the home, where he found the white dog described the day before.
“I observed several cuts on the dog’s face and left leg,” the officer wrote.
On April 18, an officer met Samuels and asked whether the dog had been taken to the veterinarian. She said the dog did not need medical attention.
The couple “‘cleaned the dog up’ and did not take it to a veterinarian,” the officer wrote.
On April 19, a judge issued an arrest warrant. Police arrested Braun on charges of animal cruelty and disorderly conduct. Braun pleaded not guilty. His next hearing in McHenry County court is set for Feb. 8.
It is his second time facing animal cruelty charges in seven years.
The puppy incident
On June 8, 2011, a woman called police to report that a man had thrown a puppy out the window of a van, according to an incident report.
Braun was planning to take the puppy to his business where there was a large, gated pen, according to an Animal Control report. He said he wanted to take the puppy to a place where it would not get out.
Braun said he put the puppy in the back of his van and started driving toward the scrapyard. He said he heard the sound of the puppy scratching in the back.
When he arrived, he looked in the back of the van. The puppy was missing. Braun said it managed to get through a window screen and jump out.
“I didn’t even know the dog had jumped out the back window,” Braun told the Northwest Herald in an interview over the summer.
The woman who called police told a different story, according to records. She told police she saw Braun toss the puppy out of the moving vehicle.
A judge issued an arrest warrant, and police arrested Braun on June 17, 2011.
In August 2013, Braun was convicted of cruel treatment of animals. A judge sentenced him to a year of probation and anger counseling.
‘They don’t belong on couches, [on] people’s laps’
On April 5, 2017, someone called animal control to report Braun’s dogs were outside his house all day in the rain without shelter.
The agency reached out to Braun and Samuels. Braun called the agency and said he didn’t want to see investigators around his property anymore.
“He spoke about how there is a group on Facebook that talks about getting people like him out of their neighborhood, about how the McHenry [Police Department] doesn’t like him, and about how the politics of the county are working against him,” an investigator wrote.
The animal control investigator had difficulty reining in Braun’s personality.
The officer listened to Braun speak for about five minutes before he was able to steer the conversation back to the dogs. Braun said he spent $300 a week to feed them.
“He stated that someone who doesn’t care about their animals wouldn’t try to keep them in comfortable conditions,” the officer said in his report. “Mike also stated that he loves his dogs, but they are still dogs, they don’t belong on couches, [on] people’s laps.”
‘The city of McHenry is corrupt’
Although Braun has left McHenry, he still is making payments on the home, where his brother now lives. Braun makes payments to Mark Rogulic, of the Rogulic Family Living Trust.
The property owner said he’s happy as long as he gets a rent check every month.
“As long as he pays me, I don’t like to infringe,” Rogulic said. “How they live is their problem. If they’re out of the scope of the law, it’s their problem. That’s where I stand.”
Since Braun has moved out of McHenry, there have been two ordinance violations at the Lillian Street home, although neither pertained to animals. McHenry authorities fined him Sept. 17 for a tall grass violation. On Nov. 7, another ticket arrived after authorities found an accumulation of rubbish on the property.
In Braun’s view, all of the fines, complaints and police visits were tactics by the city to push him out of town.
“I am going to file a federal lawsuit against the city of McHenry,” Braun said.
Braun said city officials conspired to force him out of town to stomp out his controversial political views and confrontational personality.
“The city of McHenry is corrupt,” Braun said. “This city has done nothing but harass me.”
Number of dogs registered to couple: 8
Number or Animal Control calls: 86
Number of Animal Control citations: 36
Amount of fines from the city of McHenry: $7,600
Number of people bitten by couple’s dogs: 3
Source: McHenry County Animal Control, City of McHenry documents