Family Awarded Historic $1.26 Million Settlement for Dog Killed by Police

Rodney Price, a rookie officer with the Anne Arundel County Police Department, was canvassing a neighborhood in February 2014, looking for witnesses to a burglary. He said he was confronted by Chesabar Vernon Goldennuts Reeves, aka Vern, a 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, in the front yard of the home of his owner, Michael Reeves.

Price shot Vern twice, killing the dog.

“He says, ‘I’m really, really sorry, I just had to shoot him,’ and I’m like, ‘You didnt have to,’” Reeves told WJZ.

Reeves was right. Although Price claimed Vern was barking and running toward him, a necropsy showed that one of the bullets entered the dog’s side, indicating that Vern not facing Price but perpendicular to his gun.

After the shooting, former Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis met with Reeves and his family, offering his condolences and promising a complete investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, Price was placed on administrative duty.

The internal investigation came to the conclusion that Vern was aggressive. Price was exonerated — and he’s still employed with the police department, the Capital Gazette reports.

Reeves filed a lawsuit against the police department. Finally, three years and three months after Vern was killed, the case went to trial — and the jury disagreed with the results of the police investigation.

During the three-day trial, Price admitted Vern didn’t bite or injure him before he shot the dog, and that he took no steps to humanely deal with Vern before pulling the trigger.

Jurors were asked specifically if Vern had attacked Price, and they all said no. They decided the shooting had violated Reeves’ constitutional rights and was committed with gross negligence.

Vern had been a member of the Reeves family since 2009. Their neighbor, Howard Seltzer, told WJZ he’d never heard him growl. “Hed bark, but I never heard him go after anybody, he said. He was a beautiful animal.

In the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history, the jury awarded Reeves and his family a $1.26 million settlement for the unnecessary shooting of their dog by a police officer. The settlement includes $500,000 in monetary damages since Reeves, a defense contractor, had to take a significant amount of time off from work. The $760,000 in damages was for the anguish caused by the senseless murder of their beloved pet.

Anne Arundel County officials have not commented on the settlement.

Every year, an estimated 10,000 pet dogs are shot and killed by police officers in the U.S. — that’s one every 98 minutes. To prevent these deaths, steps are being taken across the country to train law enforcement officers in how to humanely deal with dogs and other pets.

“The verdict sends a strong message to the police about … community expectations,” Reeves’ attorney, Cary J. Hansel, said in a statement. “The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well. Shooting Vern was senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

In January 2016, a jury awarded a Colorado man $262,500 for the wrongful death of his therapy dog, Chloe, who was shot and killed by a police officer. At the time, it was said to be the largest settlement of its kind.

Not only do these verdicts send a strong message to police officers, but they show that pets are worth much, much more than what can be considered their fair market value to their owners.

“I hope Vern’s case results in a butterfly effect,” says a status update on the Justice for Vern Facebook page, “sending small flutters that result in big changes in communities throughout the U.S.”

Photo credit: YouTube

269 comments

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