Disturbing Trend: Police on Dog Violence
Cisco, Chloe, Kincaid, Sassy, Ziggy, Chase and Payton – this is a story about family dogs and the people who love them. This is also a story about the law enforcement officers who killed them.
On April 14, 2012, a domestic disturbance call went out to the Austin, Texas police department. Police responding to the call saw Michael Paxton come from his backyard into the driveway, where he was immediately told to stop while a gun was drawn on him and he was held at gunpoint. Within moments, Cisco, an Australian Cattle Dog, came around the corner from the backyard to be with his owner. Cisco responded, as most dogs will when someone is on their property, and barked at the officer – who, without hesitation – shot Cisco dead, in front of his owner.
That domestic disturbance call? Police were at the wrong address. They not only responded to the incorrect address, they held an innocent man at gunpoint and killed his pet.
This is not the first time law enforcement has shown up at the wrong doorstep and left dead dogs in the wake of their mistake. In late July 2008, a Maryland SWAT team invaded the home of the then Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Cheye Calvo in what looked like a scene out of a Hollywood blockbuster. They threw his mother-in-law (who was making spaghetti sauce at the time) on the floor, cuffed them both and shot Calvo’s two black Labradors. When SWAT team members entered the home by crashing through the door, one sleeping dog got up to see what was going on and was shot dead. The other dog was trying to run away and was shot three times. Blood was everywhere, Calvo was distraught and the answer to their grief amid intimidating interrogation was to have an officer cover up their dead bodies with dog beds until animal control could come to get them.
Just this week, in Adams County Colorado, Ziggy, a 35-pound blue heeler/border collie mix was gunned down by local law enforcement when they mistakenly forced entry into a workshop business while responding to an alarm. Ziggy ran past the police, out the front door; while headed back to his owner, Jeff Fischer, Ziggy was shot on the way back inside. Fischer alleges that Ziggy was at least 15 feet away from the officer when shot and displayed no aggression during the episode. This is the second such incident of its kind in Adams County and citizens are outraged. Police Officer Robert Price has been charged by the Adams County District Attorney with aggravated cruelty to animals in the first incident which killed a dog named Chloe. A video of the event, taken by a neighbor and posted online, helped to secure the charges.
On New Year’s Day, according to reports, Baltimore City police chased a suspect through a neighborhood. The suspect ran down an alleyway, jumped a fence into a yard and down the outside basement steps of a third party home in an effort to evade police. The officer drew the gun on the suspect, who was at the bottom of the stairs. Kincaid, in his own yard, came off the front porch to investigate the commotion, as he was doing so, he barked. Just as Edward Augustine, resident of the home, went to reach for Kincaid’s harness, the officer – who had yelled for Augustine to restrain the dog—reportedly fired six shots, three of which hit Kincaid, killing him. Witnesses say the officer put Augustine in danger as well, nearly missing him with the shots. The officer had not yet detained, cuffed or searched the detainee before any of this happened.
Baltimore City’s Northeast District police will not comment on the shooting. Owner of Kincaid, Stacy Fields, tells FUROCIOUS “The officer told Ed to get Kincaid and as he [Augustine] reached to grab his harness, the officer turned from the suspect and fired 6 shots. He missed Kincaid 3 times and hit him 3 times.”
As someone raised in a law enforcement family, the members of which were, and are, ‘expert’ level marksmen, I can tell you there is more than one thing wrong with a statement that a police officer, who is required to carry a gun every day, fires six shots and connects with only three at close range – especially if he contends the animal was charging him. But, I digress. Stacy and her family have yet to receive an apology. She awaits the scheduling of a meeting that Major Richard Worley has suggested and she intends to file a civil suit. She has received no communication from anyone officially from city government - including one from the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Commission, which, according to Stacy, parroted the statement on the police department’s Facebook page. She contends that Kincaid had no history of violence. A peaceful vigil last Saturday morning outside the Northeast District headquarters attracted about 40 individuals.
Make no mistake. FUROCIOUS understands, more than most from personal experience, the sacrifices that families in law enforcement, and officers on duty, make every day. We understand that police are not infallible and that they also make mistakes. We agree that it is an officer’s right to protect themselves, and acknowledge it is their duty to the community to do so as well. FUROCIOUS is often upset by news reports of suspects who do not obey officer commands to stand down, often which result in a suspect being shot and, sometimes, killed. Members of our law enforcement community must expect cooperation in the act of apprehending someone, criminal or not, for those who do not comply, are perceived as hostile and dangerous.
But police officers are also members of our communities. They are trained professionals from whom we seek protection, advice and counsel. We hope to have conversations with them as they drive and walk our streets, we hope they will become familiar with our neighborhoods and businesses so they might notice when something is out of place or appears suspicious. In effect, this is a relationship.
We do not expect to have sheriffs’ deputies or police officers entering our property unlawfully, or with a warrant, and shooting our dogs dead. Certainly, if a dog is in the act of attacking (ready to lunge, teeth and gums exposed, biting), we understand a shot to injure, or kill, may be an appropriate response. However, if a dog owner is attending to the pet, attempting to move the dog out of an escalating situation, we expect to have everyone come out of that situation alive – including the dog.
Questions need to be asked and an honest dialogue needs to begin about why deadly force is being used preemptively. Is this a lack of an appropriate assessment of situational awareness? Are officers operating under more stress and therefore not able to determine a ‘real’ vs. ‘perceived’ threat? Or are some officers just, quite honestly, afraid of dogs, which could stem from a childhood incident or family influences when it comes to domestic animals?
This is not to relieve dog parents of their responsibilities either. However, in the aforementioned cases, I am unsure as to what those dog owners could have done differently which would have resulted in a better ending.
FUROCIOUS hopes that in the case of the Baltimore shooting, the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission will use this as an opportunity to create a public, practical, meaningful, productive discussion with the Baltimore City Police. We need to learn how we can avoid future incidents of this kind and if that, in fact, translates into more police training and community awareness. Baltimoreans already know that when called to the scene of a ‘vicious dog’ report in Baltimore last spring, Officer Dan Waskiewicz and his astute assessment of a pitbull at the scene, had a much better ending than all of these other stories. The pitbull, having been chased and pummeled with bottles by neighborhood kids approached Officer Waskiewicz with his tail between his legs. He determined the dog was not a threat - which, days later, ultimately resulted in the officer adopting the dog he now calls “Bo.” For his appropriate response, Officer Waskiewicz was honored by the Baltimore Humane Society.
In April of 2012, the law firm Joseph, Greenwald & Laake (JGL) announced in a press release that “a Maryland jury returned a $620,000 verdict against two Frederick County Sheriff’s Deputies for violating the constitutional rights of a Frederick County family” which resulted in the seriously wounding their chocolate Labrador, who will now need lifelong medical care and treatment. The dog, a the time of the shooting incident, was never more than three feet near the deputies and had ceased barking prior to when the deputy pulled the trigger. According to this release (http://news.yahoo.com/620-000-verdict-frederick-county-maryland-police-dog-070850853.html) the incident was caught on video.
Carey J. Hansel of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, one of two attorneys representing the victims in this case said “The verdict makes it clear that Maryland citizens will not tolerate the killing and maiming of innocent family pets by those in positions of power. The jury valiantly defended our constitutional rights to be secure from this violence on our property and to be safe in our own homes. This is a victory for the constitution and for all Maryland citizens.”
So, message to Baltimore – the citizens do not have to accept this behavior from law enforcement. The maiming and killing of our pets does not serve to build bridges, but rather disintegrate them. These are our neighborhoods, these are members of our family, let’s work together.
To keep up on the progress on Kincaid, you can “like” his Facebook page to follow the story more closely at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kincaid-Killed-by-Baltimore-City-Police/129570580537016.