Civil Rights

Couple Makes Federal Case Out of Death of Pet Chased and Killed by Police

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News that a large dog who had escaped from its family’s yard but reportedly wasn’t acting aggressively had been chased down and shot to death by police in a small city in Washington state elicited community outrage.

Not only sympathetic neighbors and pet owners but the mayor and police chief of Des Moines attended a vigil for the dog, a 3-year-old Newfoundland named Rosie, and her owners, Charles and Deirdre Wright, the Seattle Times reports.

Earlier this month, two years after Rosie’s death, the couple filed a federal civil rights suit. In their complaint (PDF), they contend that the city police department violated their Fourth Amendment right to be secure in their persons and effects.

“Rosie was an effect, and a special one that cannot be replaced,” said attorney Adam Karp of Bellingham, who represents the plaintiffs. He says the police should have attempted to reach the Wrights, whose phone numbers were listed on a registration filed with the police department, before killing their pet and violated department policy by shooting her under the circumstances.

An internal affairs investigation found that the officers who shot Rosie to death were justified, attorney Shannon Ragonesi of Keating Bucklin & McCormack tells the newspaper, declining to comment in detail on the case. Her firm represents the city.

Rosie wound up at the home of Lora Perry, who lives about four blocks from the Wrights, the Times recounts. Asked by officers if a stray dog was in her fenced backyard, she said yes and was told to go inside her home as another officer arrived with a rifle. They let her own dog out of the yard as they walked past her No Trespassing sign and fired four times at the Newfoundland, who Perry said had been “just sniffing around” the yard.

“They were frightened,” said Perry of her children, who were home at the time. “And I was just livid.” The officers, she continued, “didn’t ask me anything. The dog could have stayed in my backyard.”

Such cases, although unusual, are being brought throughout the country. Earlier this year, jury verdicts ranged from zero, in a case in which the police were found to be justified, to $620,000 to a family whose pet dog was shot at their own home.

The latter award was reduced by a judge in September to $607,500, after a lawyer for the Frederick County, Md., sheriff’s department argued that state law capped damages for veterinary bills to $7,500, the Frederick News-Post reported. Originally, the jury awarded $20,000 for veterinary bills. The rest of the judgment, which the judge did not reduce, was for pain, suffering and mental anguish.

Related coverage: “After Seeing Dashcam Video of Deputy Shooting Family Dog, Jury Awards $620K in Civil Rights Case” “Trial Looms in Federal Case Over Death of Family Pet Shot by Police in Front of Girl, 12” “Federal Jury Upholds City Police in Civil Rights Case Over Death of Family Dog In Yard of Their Home”

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