A federal appeals court has sided with police officers who fatally shot two dogs during a drug raid, even though officers testified that one of the dogs was merely barking and “just standing there.”
Mark and Cheryl Brown of Battle Creek, Michigan, first brought a lawsuit against the City of Battle Creek, the city’s police department and three officers in 2015, the Battle Creek Enquirer reports. A drug raid gone awry had resulted in their two dogs being killed two years prior.
The Browns argued that the police killing their pets constituted unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. A lower court dismissed the suit, and on Wednesday, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati released an opinion upholding the lower court’s decision. (Read the opinion in its entirety here.)
Neither Mark nor Cheryl Brown was a criminal suspect. But police obtained a warrant to search their residence because they had received reports that a man named Vincent Jones had been distributing cocaine and heroin from the home. The owner of the home was Cheryl Brown’s mother, who had a child with Jones.
Police said they received word on the way to the residence that Jones had already been arrested and was in custody. They also learned that Mark Brown — who was on his lunch break from work — was at the house, and that there was a dog in the backyard. Officers handcuffed Brown in front of the home when they arrived. Brown testified that he informed one of the officers that his two dogs were inside, and offered them keys to the place.
Officer Christof Klein, who later said he hadn’t heard Brown offer his keys, used a large metal ram to open the door.
Klein also testified that the two dogs, described as pit bulls, were barking “aggressively” and “lunging towards the windows” before officers entered the home, although Brown disputed this claim.
The remainder of the account of the raid comes from testimony by the police officers involved.
Klein said the first dog continued barking aggressively and “lunged” at him when he went inside, although he specified the “lunge” only involved the dog moving “a few inches.” At that point, he shot and wounded the dog. Both dogs then retreated into the basement. The officers then entered the basement in order to “sweep” the place for drugs and possible other suspects. When the wounded dog at the bottom of the stairs began barking again, Klein shot and killed her.
At this point, the second dog was standing in the middle of the basement. Klein testified that she started barking while standing still and facing away from the officers. He fired two shots at her, and she ran to the basement’s back corner. Officer Damon Young said he shot the dog when she started “moving” away from the corner and toward him. The dog ran behind a furnace, at which point Officer Jeffrey Case fatally shot her. He said didn’t want to see her continue to suffer and that there was “blood coming out of numerous holes” in her body.
Judge Eric Clay wrote in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that shooting both dogs was “reasonable” because the animals were preventing the officers from “safely” sweeping the basement. Clay also wrote that the officers did not have enough time to come up with a plan to deal with the dogs in the home.
Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker told the Battle Creek Enquirer that it was “a good ruling” that “pointed out some things we have to improve upon, but supported our operating concept that officers must act within reason.”
Law enforcement officials frequently mistake signs of fear for aggression, Kilcommons said. The fact that the dogs ran away from the officers and into the basement was much more “telling” than any barking, he said, no matter how aggressive it may have sounded.
“In such a high-tension situation, expecting a dog not to bark is just plain stupid,” he told The Huffington Post. “The worst thing according to this precedent is that every dog barks when a stranger shows up.”