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Sunday, January 9, 2022

Cops and Dogs

     In June 2013, heavily armed police officers in Buffalo, New York in search of crack cocaine, raided the wrong apartment. They broke down Iraq war veteran Adam Arroyo's door and shot Cindy, his 50-pound, 2-year-old pit bull. Cindy died on the spot. Local news organizations, aware of the public's outrage over the unnecessary shooting of a man's pet by cops raiding the wrong place, asked the Buffalo Police Department to provide statistics on how many dogs their officers shoot every year. To no one's surprise, the police department refused to cooperate with the news media.

     This act of law enforcement secrecy led to the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request for this data by local television station WGRZ. When reporters got their hands on the requested information it became apparent why the police department had been so cozy.

     From January 1, 2011 to September 2014, Buffalo Police Department officers shot 92 dogs, 73 of them fatally. And even more shocking, one officer in the department had been responsible for 30 percent of the dog shootings. In less than three years this officer had shot 26 dogs, killing all but one. He was, in essence, a one-man canine death squad. (The police department refused to release his name.)

     A cursory review of dog shootings reported in the media would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a significant percentage of dog shootings by police involve excessive force. The indiscriminate shooting of family pets has become a major point of contention between the police and the citizens they are paid to serve. People love their dogs and treat them like family. Having a beloved pet killed unnecessarily by a police officer immediately creates a law enforcement enemy. And when the authorities lie and cover-up to protect the officer involved, that police hatred becomes intense. When others learn of this form of law enforcement cruelty the anger spreads throughout the community.

     What follows are a few more examples of police animal abuse:

Newton, Iowa

     At ten in the morning of September 7, 2012, a police officer responded to a complaint regarding a dog running loose in the Emerson Hough section of the town. According to the complaining witness, Jeri Fahrenkrug's pit bull named Griz had snarled and growled at a man walking by her house.

     Neighbors watching from their front porches watched as the police officer shot Griz to death from a range of 30 feet. These witnesses later disagreed with the officer's statement that the pit bull had charged him. The dog, known in the neighborhood to be friendly, died near his owner's yard.

Filer, Idaho

     On February 8, 2014, officer Tarek Hassani with the Filer Police Department, pulled up to Rick Clubb's house in response to a complaint that his two dogs were not leashed. Mr. Clubb, confined to a wheelchair as a result of Parkinson's Disease, used one of the black labradors, 7-year-old Hooch, as a service dog.

     When the friendly labs rushed to greet the police officer, he kicked Hooch in the face, pulled his gun and killed the dog on the spot. Several people witnessed the shooting and were shocked by the unprovoked nature of this deadly force.

     After killing Hooch, officer Hassani berated Mr. Clubb for not keeping his dogs leashed. "You don't have to yell at me," said the distraught dog owner. Officer Hassani responded by demanding identification that if not immediately produced would involved a trip to the local jail.

     In April 2014, local citizens held a protest in front of city hall. A petition to recall the mayor who backed officer Hassani was being circulated in the community. An investigation by a neighboring police agency eventually cleared the officer of wrongdoing. This added to the public anger over the shooting. The mayor was not recalled and the officer remained on the force.

Salt Lake City, Utah

     In June 2014, officer Brett Olsen with the Salt Lake City Police Department, while searching for a missing boy, climbed over a backyard fence where he encountered Geist, the home owner's 110-pound, 2-year-old Weimaramer. The officer shot Geist to death in the dog owner's yard. (The missing boy was found sleeping at home.)

     Angry protestors gathered in front of the Salt Lake City Police Department. Notwithstanding public outrage and the facts of the case, the department cleared this officer of wrongdoing.

Sulphur, Louisiana

     In 2013, when hiring former Louisiana State Police officer Brian Thierbach for the Sulphur Police Department, the chief knew he did not have a clean law enforcement record. In 2006, Thierbach had been suspended without pay following a traffic accident in which he had been at fault. Thierbach, in 2010, while making an arrest in a Walmart parking lot, accidentally fired his service weapon. He resigned from the state police in April 2013 after being cited for conduct unbecoming a police officer.

     Brandon Carpenter, a 28-year-old musician from Portland, Maine, had been traveling the country by freight train and hitch-hiking with a 21-year-old friend. In April 2014, Carpenter, his companion, and Carpenter's 14-month-old labrador-newfoundland-golden retriever mix Arzy, arrived in Sulphur, Louisiana.

     The two men and the dog, on that rainy day, took refuge in a box truck sitting in the parking lot of a newspaper office. A person who saw them climb into the back of the truck called the police.

     Officer Thierbach arrived at the scene to find the men asleep in the vehicle. Arzy was also in the truck attached to a four-foot leash. Officer Thierbach ordered the two men out of the truck. With the suspects lying face-down on the ground, the officer handcuffed them behind their backs and climbed into the box truck to retrieve their belongings. Seeing Arzy, the officer asked, "Will he attack me?"

     Brandon Carpenter assured the officer that Arzy was gentle, sweet, and harmless. The handcuffed men saw the officer pet Arzy who wagged his tail. Then suddenly, for no reason, officer Thierbach shot the dog to death.

     When the details of Arzy's shooting became public, citizens of this small Calasieu Parish town were outraged. The police chief, under criticism for hiring this officer in the first place, accepted Thierbach's resignation on May 7, 2014. A month later, a local grand jury indicted him on the charge of aggravated animal cruelty.

Baltimore, Maryland

     On July 14, 2014, two officers with the Baltimore Police Department responded to a complaint that a small dog had bitten a woman. The cops became frustrated and agitated when they couldn't catch the 7-year-old Shar-Pei named Nala with a stick and a length of rope. One of the officers was heard saying, "I'm going to get that thing!"

     When the officers did manage to corral Nala, one of the cops held the dog down while his partner slit the dog's throat with an eight-inch knife. Caught on video, the slaughter of this pet caused public outrage so intense a local prosecutor charged both officers with animal cruelty.

Topeka, Kansas

     On May 7, 2014, a police officer in Topeka, in response to a barking dog complaint, knocked on the pet owner's front door. When no one responded, the officer walked across the street and spoke to a neighbor who informed him that the dog in question, a German shepherd and border collie mix named Dallas, was friendly and often played with neighborhood children.

     The officer returned to the dog owner's home, and with the neighbor looking on, shot Dallas dead when the dog galloped playfully to greet him. Dallas' owner came home to find her dead pet and the officer who had killed him arguing with a group of angry neighbors. The officer, who obviously didn't like his authority being challenged, told the angry neighbors to mind their own business. This officer was later cleared by the police department of wrongdoing.

Mason County, West Virginia

     On the afternoon of June 24, 2014, 32-year-old Ginger Sweat, while putting one of her two young children down for a nap in her mobile home in a rural community not far from Charleston, saw a police officer with a dog on a leash walking out of the woods behind her dwelling. The officer, accompanied by seven other cops, was searching for a missing neighborhood boy.

     When Ginger Sweat saw Willy Pete, her 6-year-old beagle-basset hound mix with arthritis approach the group of officers, she ran out of her house to assure the officers that Willy Pete was friendly and harmless. As she pleaded with the officers to allow her to gather up her pet and take him inside, Sergeant S. T. Harper with the West Virginia State Police, an officer with 14 years on the force, fired several shots at Willy Pete, hitting him three times. The dog lay dead in his owner's yard in a pool of blood.

     This senseless shooting of a harmless family pet on the dog owner's property enraged the community. A spokesperson for the state police, in an effort to diffuse public anger, issued a statement apologizing for Willy Pete's shooting. However, in that statement, the state police added fuel to the scandal by offering a phony version of the incident by accusing the dog of growling and baring his teeth at the sergeant who killed him.

If it Barks or Moves, Shoot it

     In April 2013, in Battle Creek, Michigan, SWAT officers conducting a drug raid, broke down the front door of a home occupied by Mark and Cheryl Brown and their two dogs. One of the officers shot the first dog after it had "moved a few inches," behavior the officer interpreted as a "lunge." The wounded pet fled to basement where the officer shot again and killed it. When the same officer came upon the second dog in the basement, he shot it twice. That dog was killed because it barked.

     In 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Brown sued the city of Battle Creek in Federal District Court and lost. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2016, upheld the lower court's verdict. The appeals court justices ruled that a police officer can lawfully shoot a dog that is either "moving" or "barking" as long as the officer believes that the dog poses an imminent threat.

     In 2019, an official with the United States Department of Justice estimated that police officers in the United States shoot and kill 25 to 30 dogs a day, about 10,000 a year. The government spokesperson characterized the police killing of family pets an "epidemic." It's also an outrage, and does serious damage to police-community relations. 

1 comment:

  1. Professor Fisher,

    Excellent information on this increasing problem that many of us are unaware of taking place in so many areas of our country. Most police officers do not have a policy in place and most likely don’t even think about the possibility of dealing with a dog or dogs being present, other than to kill them. Dogs, I feel are becoming victims of an increasingly militarized, fear based approach to policing.

    When I was young, I remember the police officer being there to help when there was a problem. Back then, we didn’t fear the police, but now one needs to be somewhat fearful of the police and its a very bad way for this country to become.

    Although there are some dogs that are trained by owners to be vicious, the police are shooting as a first resort, even though the dog poses little or no threat, or when the dog itself feels fear and acts protectively.

    Our laws recognize that a dog has a right to be safe and to feel safe in his property but when a police officer or anyone else trespasses and then suggest that the killing is justified because the dog was not all cuddly and nice or friendly, really stretches the point.

    I believe that this will only stop when more and more of the families that have been abused this way start suing and the Courts begin to issue large judgments against these municipalities. Those policemen that do kill dogs at an alarming rate should also be analyzed by a trained mental health professional as part of the disciplinary action.