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 didn’t 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. “He’d 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

258 comments

Melania P
Melania Padillaabout a month ago

Nice!! Maybe that way they learn; the police force needs to stop killing pets!

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers3 months ago

One and a quarter million dollars for a dog? They don't do that for humans do they? Especially blacks! That place is bonkers! I don't particularly have a fondness for American cops, but I think even 100,000 is too much! I don't want to put a price on a dogs life...but I am going to....honestly, if a government official killed my dog I would be chuffed to get ten grand! I've got kids but if they only had a lifespan of only ten years and couldn't look after me in my old age, I would feel a lot different towards them, and kids are more entertaining than dogs usually! But, that's just my opinion.

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H3 months ago

He was awarded - they will appeal. I hope it sticks. The higher the number the better. The only way the police will learn to stop shooting innocent animals is through the dollar - obviously not through empathy.

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole H3 months ago

To finalize my comments : what about new regulations about everyone having the right to have a gun ? This is really the U.S. mentality I think. You go to a shop, put your money on the table, and get yourself a gun !! Just like buying a pair of shoes. The more guns are in circulations, the more "accidents" happen. All you need : a drunken husband, a jealous wife, a drug using teen, someone who lost his/her child in a car accident... and so there are hundreds and hundreds scenarios. You get angry, you feel no one is understanding you, you feel mis understood, and hup... you take your gun and kill the one who caused your grieve or anger... And with Trump in lead, you have a heap of other potential victims : muslims, Mexicans, people you think might possibly be a terrorist. Hopeless to think that this law will change now with the president you are having, but I certainly hope that in the future, there will be a President who will have this law changed.

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole H3 months ago

When going through the comments, I see many people say : justice was served !! NO, NO and NO !! Justice was not served !! This policeman is still working. Or didn't you read that part. This is outrageous !! What right does he have to remain a policeman, after having killed a dog without any reason ?? Is this Justice ?? As I said in my previous comment : he should have been fired !! Immediately ! And what about bringing him before court ? So most of you think that it is okay that after having killed a family pet, he does not deserve some punishment ? Well, I think that at least he should have to pay a fine for his act. And a little working (for instance in a dog shelter) would not be appropriate ? Well, I do ! And, I fully agree with Jill C. : what about all the war veterans coming home disabled physically, but certainly mentally, what do they get ? A very poor indemnification, just enough not to die, but too little, way too little, to have a decent living ? Where is the God damned justice here ? Sorry, but I feel a bit disgusted. When most of you think the loss of a dog is worth $ 1,26 million, what is the life of a war veteran worth ? Or anyone who was shot by a "stray" bullet in the street ?? Or the poor shop-owner, killed by a drugged robber. Those people have a family they leave behind, wife, children, parents, sisters and brothers, etc... They have to continue their lives

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jill Campbell
jill Campbell3 months ago

$1.26 MILLION!!! Come on now! Isn't that over the top? Give the man some compensation for time missed working & a reasonable settlement for his dog.

Our Veterans get shit for going to war and coming back without limbs & post traumatic stress. They live homeless, they don't get their rightful due, what they come home to is a lack of support physically & mentally & no help for families that end in divorce.

But a dog and his owner receive $1.26 million. Something stinks here.

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Lindsay K
Lindsay K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing. Perhaps it will lead to some re-training!

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Leo Custer
Leo C3 months ago

thank you for sharing!

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Roberto MARINI
Roberto M3 months ago

thank for sharing

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Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago

Thanks.

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