Michigan Court Rules Police Can “Justifiably” Shoot Dog During Action

AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Editors Note: This post was originally published on December 22, 2016. It was updated on November 19, 2019. 

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If you want to ruin the rest of your day, few things will accomplish that more quickly than stories of police officers shooting people’s pets.

Here’s just one such story from 2014:

A police officer in Filer, Idaho, explained the incident to a colleague minutes after it happened: “I get out to talk to the people, two dogs come around me, one of them’s growling and snarling. I kick it. It comes back around, now it’s growling and snarling. I kick it again. Then it lunges at me, I’m like, f— you. So, I just shot it.”

He doesn’t sound broken up.

Yes, Officer Tarek Hassani exited his car on a quiet suburban street, kicked a black labrador twice, shot the dog, and left it to die in a snowy driveway. And then?

He issued its angry, upset owner a $100 ticket for having it off-leash.

And there have been similar incidents since then — far too many, in fact. Though there’s no national database of how many dogs and other pets are killed by cops each year, the Puppycide Database, which tracks pet deaths at the hands of police using media reports and tips submitted by readers, has counted nearly 3,000 documented deaths.

Shockingly, a documentary from 2013 calculated that, on average, a pet dog is killed by a police officer once every 98 minutes.

It’s that context which makes so awful this week’s ruling from a circuit court in Michigan, which said that cops can kill any dog that doesn’t sit perfectly silent and still when the officer enters its home:

A ruling from the 6th Circuit Court serves as a warning to dog owners: Teach your dog to sit still and be quiet or risk police justifiably shooting the dog.

Mark and Cheryl Brown petitioned the court to hold the city and police officers from Battle Creek, Mich., accountable for shooting and killing their dogs while executing a search warrant of their home looking for evidence of drugs. The plaintiffs said the police officers’ actions amounted to the unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The circuit court on Monday agreed with a lower court ruling siding with the police officers.

Here’s one particularly gutting excerpt from the ruling, which describes how little a dog need do to be “justifiably” shot by police:

Officer Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement. The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was “just standing there,” barking and was turned sideways to the officers. Klein then fired the first two rounds at the second dog.

After hiding in a corner, this second dog made the mistake of moving and was shot again by another officer. She then tried to hide behind the furnace, at which point a third officer observed: “blood coming out of numerous holes in the dog” and killed her with a final shot.

This behavior — barking, moving, hiding — is the “imminent threat to the officer’s safety” the judge said excused the officers’ decision to execute this dog?!

The first dog allegedly “lunged” at the cops, but by the admission of the officer who began shooting, it “had only moved a few inches” when he decided the dog should die. Is that seriously an “imminent threat”?

This ruling is deeply troubling to me as a dog owner and as a supporter of the Fourth Amendment. Anyone who has encountered a normal, reasonably well-trained dog knows that even the gentlest dog who sees strange people bursting into his or her home will at the very least react by barking.

If that is legal grounds for death by cop, no dog is safe.

Watch: What’s the Difference Between a Llama and an Alpaca?

What do you think?

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