No one keeps records on how many privately owned dogs are shot and killed each year by American law enforcement officers so there are no hard figures. But a perusal of the Web and social media will tell you it’s a lot.
Laurel Matthews, a supervisory program specialist with the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (DOJ COPS) office, says it’s an awful lot.
She calls fatal police vs. dogs encounters an “epidemic” and estimates that 25 to 30 pet dogs are killed each day by law enforcement officers.
Last month the a 4th circuit judge ruled a officer who killed a non-threatening dog has had his immunity stripped and will have to face a lawsuit over his unjustified actions. Here are the events that led up to the pet’s killing, as recounted by the court.
READ RULING HERE:
On September 24, 2017, [Officer Michael] Roane drove to Ray’s property to assist with an arrest warrant that was being served on Ray for domestic abuse. When Roane arrived on Ray’s property, four other officers were already present and parked in the driveway. Ray’s dog—a 150-pound German Shepard named Jax—was secured by a zip-lead attached to two trees that allowed the animal limited movement within a “play area” of the yard.
Rather than park in the driveway like the other officers, Roane parked his truck within the dog’s “play area…”
Reading this complaint in the light most favorable to common sense, Officer Roane placed himself in danger and then tried to use his self-inflicted peril to justify shooting the family’s dog. Pretty tough to do when you’re surrounded by actually “reasonable” officers.
… prompting the other officers on scene to shout and gesture toward Roane, indicating that he should “[w]ait” and “[l]et [Ray] get her dog.”
Roane did not do this. He did not wait. He did not allow anyone to secure the dog. Instead, he “exited his vehicle and started walking towards the house.”
Things then happened that anyone — including Officer Roane — would have expected to happen. Roane advanced towards the house. The dog advanced to the end of its zip line. The dog was forced to de-escalate because it had run out of line and was being called back by its owner. Officer Roane had no such restraints and was unwilling to listen to the other officers’ attempt to rein him in. But it does appear from the allegations made in the lawsuit Roane knew he was not in danger.
As Roane emerged from his vehicle, Jax began barking at and approaching Roane. Roane responded by backing away from the dog and drawing his firearm, while Ray ran to the zip-lead and began shouting Jax’s name. “In a short moment,” Jax reached the end of the zip-lead and “could not get any closer” to Roane. Roane observed that the dog could not reach him, and further observed that Ray was now holding onto Jax’s fully-extended lead and continuing to call Jax’s name. Roane therefore stopped backing up.
Roane’s decision to end his retreat signalled he knew he was able to avoid any contact with the dog whose area he had entered and proceeded into over the protests of other law enforcement officers. That should have been the end of it.
Instead, this was the end of it.
Roane took a step forward, positioning himself over Jax, and fired his weapon into the dog’s head. The dog died from the wound.
Officer Roane will only be stripped of his immunity for his apparent cold-blooded killing of an animal he recognized posed no threat to him as long as he remained outside of the zip-line’s reach.
Unimaginably, the lower court said this was all fine and reasonable.
On September 20, 2018, the district court dismissed Ray’s federal claim for unlawful seizure of Jax and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining two state-law claims. In so doing, the district court concluded Roane’s actions had been reasonable under the totality of the circumstances and he would be entitled to qualified immunity.
Oh absolutely not, says the Fourth Circuit. Taking the allegations in favor of the complainant, there’s plenty that’s not settled here and it’s certainly fucking not settled when it comes to Roane’s actions once he moved out of harm’s way. Stepping back in to kill a dog that could not reach him isn’t reasonable by any stretch of the imagination.
No immunity for Officer Roane. The case goes back to the trial court that failed so badly the first time around. If an officer can avoid interacting with a dog they perceive as threatening and still accomplish their objectives (i.e., arrest a suspect), then they should do so. Anything else is objectively (and subjectively) unreasonable. Roane placed himself in harm’s way, ignored other officers’ advice to not place himself in the dogs’ play area, and killed a dog only after it had reached the end of its lead and no longer posed a threat to him.