Constitutional Law

Federal Jury Upholds City Police in Civil Rights Case Over Death of Family Dog In Yard of Their Home


While no one celebrates the death of a family dog shot by city police who entered the back yard of a Hartford, Conn., home without a warrant, officials are grateful that a federal jury has declined to hold the officers liable in a civil rights claim, says a lawyer who represented them at trial.

The dog’s death “was indeed an unfortunate result based on unavoidable circumstances,” attorney Thomas R. Gerarde told the Hartford Courant. after the jury reached its verdict late Tuesday afternoon.

The defense argued that Officer John Michael O’Hare and Detective Anthony Pia were simply doing their jobs when they entered the yard of the Harris family, based on a tip that gang members had guns there. Because guns can be moved so quickly, there was no time to get a warrant, Gerarde contended.

Attorney Jon Schoenhorn, who represented Harris, had argued that the officers’ entry without a warrant into the perimeter of the Harris home was a violation of their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. He could not be reached for comment by the newspaper about the defense verdict.

Accounts of exactly what happened differ, but there appears to be no dispute that the dog, a large St. Bernard, ran at the officers when they entered the yard. A police report described the animal as vicious.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Trial Looms in Federal Case Over Death of Family Pet Shot by Police in Front of Girl, 12”

The Daily: “Slay of Unlucky Seven”

Hartford Courant: “Testimony Ends In Trial Of Hartford Officer Who Shot Dog”

Fayetteville Observer: “Investigation of fatal shooting of dog by sheriff’s deputy completed”

Updated at 5:34 p.m. to link to Fayetteville Observer story.

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