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12/31/2002 "Police Brutality"

Animal Legal Defense Fund
Courts, Cops and Canines

Police officers pledge to serve and protect, and most of them do. But animal advocates have noticed a disturbing trend recently. Some cops - a small minority, to be sure, but a growing one - aren't serving or protecting companion animals. They're shooting them.

Bradley Woodall, who tracks animal cruelty cases from ALDF's Portland, Ore. office, has seen a sharp increase in reports of police officers shooting dogs.

"I used to get one or two calls about this every month," says Woodall. "Now I'm getting one or two a week."

Fortunately, efforts to combat this trend have been bolstered by an important new ruling by a federal court. In October, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania policeman who shot and killed a dog named Immi in 1998.

Immi's human companions, Kim and David Brown, were preparing to move from their home in Reading, Pa., when Immi escaped from the couple's backyard due to a defective latch. An officer in a passing patrol car spotted the 3-year-old Rottweiler, stopped, confronted her and drew his gun.

According to Kim Brown, when she saw what was happening from her house, she screamed and called out to the officer, "That's my dog! Don't shoot!"

But witnesses say the policeman shot anyway, firing five rounds four of them after Immi was already on the ground, struggling to crawl away.

The decision not only helps Immi's guardians in their quest for justice, but sets an important precedent for other victims far beyond the Keystone State. And it sends a clear message that dogs are not "fair game" for trigger-happy cops.

"It's very very difficult to prosecute anyone in law enforcement for animal cruelty because some district attorneys are going to assume that an officer did the right thing," says Barbara Newell, who co-authored ALDF's friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. "That's why it's so important that a civil case like this one has been allowed to proceed. It gives people a way to seek justice on their own."

Through ALDF, the Browns hooked up with attorney Deirdre Agnew, who filed a lawsuit on their behalf alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of the couple's civil rights.

A federal judge dismissed the suit in May 2000, writing in his decision that under Pennsylvania law "a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress cannot be predicated upon harm to a family pet."

But the Browns appealed, backed by ALDF briefs on the strong emotional bonds between humans and animals, and the court agreed, noting "the strength of community sentiment against animal abuse and the substantial emotional investment that pet owners frequently make in their pets."

Though the court was ruling on Pennsylvania law, its decision is likely to be cited in future decisions elsewhere, potentially extending new protections to animals across the country. And, says Newell, it's especially noteworthy when a U.S. appeals court recognizes animals as more than mere property.

"They've affirmed that animals aren't just insignificant chattel, and that you can expect someone to suffer from severe emotional distress if you violently kill their animal companion," she explains. "That's an important breakthrough."

Daton Fullard, a retired TV news producer in south Florida, could be one of the first to take advantage of that breakthrough. He's considering a lawsuit after discovering how difficult it can be to find justice or even reasonable explanations when a cop needlessly shoots a dog.

Late one night last year, a Miami-Dade officer walked onto Fullard's property, where his 11-year-old Alaskan malamute, Lord Atka, was chained. Fullard says the officer fired seven rounds at the animal, hitting him three times. Lord Atka survived, but eventually had to be euthanized due to the grievous injuries he suffered.

After more than seven months and continuous prodding from Fullard the police department finally released a report on the incident. According to its internal investigation, Lord Atka was threatening the officer, who believed he had to use deadly force to protect himself.

The department never said what the officer was doing on Fullard's property at the time, or why it took so many shots to subdue a chained Alaskan malamute, a famously friendly breed the Columbia Encyclopedia calls "by nature a gentle and devoted companion."

Fullard says the police report is "total hogwash." He recently began reviewing his legal options with an ALDF member attorney. He's not sure if he'll take the case to court, but he is sure of one thing: There was no reason Lord Atka had to die.

"I have friends in the police department who are very professional and do a good job. And it's a very difficult job.

That I understand," Fullard says. "But I have a problem with someone who would behave like this. If this guy is going to do this to a dog, what does he do with people? In my mind, he's a threat to the entire community."

Fortunately, the 3rd Circuit Court ruling could make it easier for ALDF and other animal advocates to seek damages when such tragedies occur, thus forcing police departments and city councils to address what has become a serious problem.

"It's really important to bring these bad apples to justice," says Newell.

"If they're allowed to escape punishment, it's not fair to all the other people in law enforcement who work so hard to protect animals and uphold cruelty laws. And it's certainly not fair to the animals."

Thank you for bringing this serious problem to the forefront. I feel police that shoot peoples' companion animals is really criminal animal cruelty.

There was a similar case in north Georgia. I interviewed a lady and her children about her dog. The dog was standing in her front yard and the county deputy shot her with three shots with an assault weapon narrowly missing her son and her daughter. Attempts to save her family's companion friend failed after rushing to the vet the dog later died.

She told me, "she did not expose this law enforcement officer because she feared retaliation from this officer that shot her families companion friend." She did cuss the Chief of Police, and his Captain for all that this poor excuse of law enforcement really stood for though. At least they were informed of what unfortunately occurred.

She told me, "she had to move to get away from the horrible memory of what happened to her Dog."

Dogs hate guns and overly agressive law enforcement approaching them with a gun, Dogs will feel threatened when someone is approaching them in an aggressive manner as well. Why has certain law enforcement turned into killers of companion animals that are known NOT to harm anyone?

What if a child stands in front of their Dog and says to the same officer,don't shoot my Dog?
Will the officer use excessive force and shoot the child?

These trigger happy police that commit these horrendous acts; intentionally killing peoples' companion friends should be evaluated and taken off the police force since they cannot tell the difference between a threatening animal and an animal that is someones' longtime devoted friend.

Law enforcement should have enough common sense to be able to tell if a Dog is a threat or not? If the law enforcement officer is in doubt, throw a blanket over the Dog or use alternative actions such as diverting the Dogs attention with food, or anything without the last resort of torturing the Dog by shooting the Dog. Use the dogs owner to subdue the animal if they are around. Just because the gun is available, doesn't mean it has to be used to kill a presumably innocent animal.

Deadly force = death. Use common sense, please?
Sincerely,
Rex Stuart
President
The Non-Hunter's Rights Coalition

Posted by Rex Stuart @ 01/02/2003 04:34 AM CST

This happened in Wisconsin also, in a case called Julie Rabideau v. City of Racine, Supreme Court Case No 99-3263. They reviewed a case decided by Judge Allan Torhorst, reported at 238 Wis. 2d 96, 617 N W 2d 678 (Ct. App. 2000-Unpublished). Justice Bablitch wrote the decision.

In that case Dakota was shot by a Racine police officer, Thomas Jacobi, and died from his injuries. His guardian was right there and witnessed the shooting while begging the officer to stop. The cop was Rabideau's neighbor and off duty. Dakota and Julie had just returned home and the dog jumped out of her truck and ran across the street to see Jacobi's dog. Julie reported that she called to Dakota and was crossing the street to get him when shots rang out. She testified that the dog was stepping off the curb to her when the second shot rang out. While Dakota was crawling to her, Jacobi fired the third shot and missed. Two days after the shooting Dakota died. When Julie was told, she collapsed and needed medical treatment.

Thomas Jacobi claimed Dakota attacked his dog so presumably he fired at two fighting dogs, one of whom was his. He said he "feared" for the safety of his wife and child standing nearby.

I think police brutality comes in many forms. White people are getting their eyes opened to what black people put up with for years. I insisted the police act to protect my cats from an abuser the police were protecting. They lied to me, saying the killer had no previous offences and he did have previous offences. The Chief helped him get a harassment order to prevent me from protecting the cats; lied to the city council to get special ordinances passed to protect the abuser and his accomplice wife. Arrested me based only on this abuser -twice convicted abuser's word that I was "harassing him; ignored the fact that more cats were showing up mysteriously dead and continued to help these abusers terrorize me.

The chief's boys reacted with more and more abuse of their power until at the Chief's instigation, one of them actually beat me up, in my own house, when trying to falsly arrest me the second time based only on the word of Kenneth Dombeck that I was harassing him. This cop also claims I attacked him. When you read the police brutality cases, you will notice the cops always claim their victim attacked them.

Even when there is videotape clearly showing the cops attacking unarmed, unresisting, civilians, they still try to claim that the victim was the aggressor. It is really funny how so many unarmed people attack cops armed with guns and clubs which they are known to use at a moment's notice.

Well, life is long and what we must do is teach the good cops not to put up with bad cops and cop administrations that encourage unequal protection.

Actually, it is really stupid people in administrative positions.

The chief of police in Dodgeville, Gary Cahoon,in my opinion and by my experiences with him, is totally unfit to have any power over other people. He was a football coach before he became Chief of Police and in my opinion he does not have the temperament and mental capacity to hold power. I questioned him on investigative tactics and he knew nothing. He does not understand the implications of animal abuse or how to protect communities, even from pedophiles. He figures if he knows who they are that is enough (his grandchildren are safe). He has done to other people what he did to me; he lies to his officers and the community and on and on.

I exposed him as much as I could. I took out ads in the newspapers. He eventually forced me to lose my home and profession and I had to move, but I do not regret resisting his abuse of power.

I will spend the rest of my life pursuing justice in this matter. We must use every tactic we have in a free society to expose these jerks and remove them from the police force.

The police must be under strict prohibitions because their power to destroy people is enormous. When the police abuse their power out of their own petty prejudice and/or frustrations, they destroy our democracy as well.

Posted by Ginny Rose @ 01/03/2003 07:32 AM CST

My dog was killed on 1/7/04 by the San Diego police for no apparent reason.She got into our neighbor's backyard and the neighbor freaked out and called "911" and within minutes were at the scene.The officer had a shotgun already engaged.He chased her into the street.She sat down and the witnesses said that the officer stepped back and shot her for no reason.I am in disbelief,shock,angry,confused and sad.I am asking for help from anybody who can give me a direction on how to handle this.I have witnesses and I feel that I have a case.She was my best friend and family pet.She will be very missed by many.858-752-7686 and 415-845-1967 are both my numbers.Please feel free to call, it will really mean a lot to me and to her.

Posted by Eric Dalton @ 01/13/2004 05:22 PM CST

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