Police Can Shoot Your Dog If It Does Anything Other Than Sit Quietly, Court Rules

A federal appeals court has just decided that it’s perfectly fine if police shoot and kill the family dog while police are on your premises. Now you’d think shooting might be deemed acceptable only if the dog is actually attacking the officers, but that’s not what the court held.

The potential end result under this December 2016 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit is a sad one. If that dog is doing anything other than sitting quietly when police are at your home, police may feel “threatened” and can shoot and kill it. You have no legal recourse if that happens.

Mark and Cheryl Brown found this out the hard way. They lived in the basement of Cheryl Brown’s mother’s home in Battle Creek, Mich. A man named Vincent Jones reportedly lived there as well. Law enforcement was interested in Jones for allegedly peddling heroin and cocaine from that house. Several officers arrived at the home in April 2013 to execute a search warrant.

They handcuffed Brown outside and told him they were going to conduct a search. Brown told one of the officers he had his keys and could let them in. He also told them there were two pit bulls inside, which they could see from the window standing on the couch.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Despite the offer of the house keys, the police battered down the door with a ram. One of the dogs began to bark. This, for the uninitiated, is what dogs do when their home’s front door suddenly comes crashing down into the living room.

Here’s what happened next, according to the court. Note the text I’ve bolded below:

Officer Klein testified that when he entered the house, the first dog jumped off the couch, was aggressively barking at the officers, and lunged at him. He also noted that when the officers entered the residence, the second pit bull jumped off the couch, went through the kitchen and down into the basement. He further testified that when the first pit bull lunged at him in the entryway, he fired his first shot. Officer Klein explained that the first pit bull “had only moved a few inches” between the time when he entered the residence and when he shot her, and that this movement was what he considered to be a “lunge.”

Barking and moving “a few inches” somehow became a dangerous “lunge” to this officer. He shot the first dog, which then withdrew to the basement where the second dog was already hiding. The officers needed to search the basement, but didn’t believe they could safely do that with two scared dogs down there. The first dog barked at them again, and they shot him dead.

The second dog fared no better. Here’s what the testimony proved, according to the court:

Officer Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement. The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was “just standing there,” barking and was turned sideways to the officers. . . . Klein then fired the first two rounds at the second dog.

After being shot by Officer Klein, the second dog ran to the back corner of the basement. The second pit bull was in this corner when Officer Young, who was also clearing the basement, shot her because she was “moving” out of the corner and in his direction. . . . After being shot by Officers Klein and Young, the second pit bull ran to the back of the furnace in the back corner of the basement.

Basically, the second pit bull had to die because it was barking in a basement, where it had run and hidden to escape the commotion upstairs. It was not even facing the officers or directly threatening them. It barked and then it “moved.”

Oh, and here’s something else. The police received word while enroute to this house that Vincent Jones had already been apprehended. They knew he wasn’t there as they broke down that door. The search proceeded anyway, though, ostensibly in case Jones’ drug buddies happened to be on the premises.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Distraught over the deaths of their dogs, the Browns filed suit against the City of Battle Creek, the Battle Creek Police Department and three police officers. They claimed killing the dogs was an unreasonable seizure of their property and a violation of their constitutional rights. A lower court dismissed their case and the Browns appealed. They lost in the appeals court as well.

The appeals court decided that “a jury could reasonably conclude that a 97-pound pit bull, barking and lunging at the officers as they breached the entryway, posed a threat to the officers’ safety and it was necessary to shoot the dog in order for them to safely sweep the residence and insure there were no other gang members in the residence and that evidence was not being destroyed.”

No one will argue that police officers need to defend themselves when a dog is posing an imminent threat to them. The thing that bothers me about this scenario is that every dog will bark aggressively at strangers who, without warning, violently break down a door. Many dogs will bark at a stranger even when there’s no actual commotion going on.

Everyone who has ever known a dog is aware of this fact. Unfortunately, with this precedent in place, all an officer has to say to justify conveniently killing your dog is that he felt threatened by that barking and movement.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

The only way you win a lawsuit over the unjustified killing of your dog is to prove the dog did nothing but sit there quietly – that it posed no conceivable danger. Mark Brown couldn’t prove this because he couldn’t rebut officers’ testimony as to what happened inside the home. Remember, he’d been cuffed and held outside. He essentially had no chance to save his dogs.

Every action your dog might take other than no movement and no barking could be deemed a threat by the officer, and the court will likely believe him or her – especially in the absence of any conflicting testimony.

After all, this appeals court believed the dog “lunged” at an officer even with his own testimony that the dog “moved a few inches.” That’s some scary lunge, isn’t it? Not to mention that the second dog did little more than hide behind a furnace in the basement and bark, and yet he had to die too.

Brian Kilcommons, an author and dog trainer who has collaborated with the Department of Justice on improving police encounters with dogs, told The Huffington Post this court decision is “beyond the scope of sanity.”

“In such a high-tension situation, expecting a dog not to bark is just plain stupid,” Kilcommons said. “The worst thing according to this precedent is that every dog barks when a stranger shows up.”

There has to be some modicum of reasonableness in these situations. This court decision amounts to permission to shoot down any dog in any scenario when it does anything more than sit mutely while its home is invaded. Dogs just don’t do that.

It will now be much too convenient to dispose of barking dogs by killing them outright. We need to be moving in the opposite direction. By all means, protect yourselves, officers – but don’t allow the frantic pace of a search to ramp up how “threatened” you feel by a dog that’s just doing what a good dog will do.

There’s viciousness and there’s protectiveness. Law enforcement officials, you have access to experts like Brian Kilcommons to help you with these situations. Why aren’t you using them?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

188 comments

Helene L
Helene L2 years ago

So, if my dog move to lick your hand will you shoot him?

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Shame! And the US call itself a civilized country? Poor owners, animal lovers and animals :(
This world gets more depressing every day

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Those aren't "police".. they're CRIMINALS hiding behind a uniform and for this barbaric act, they should be thrown behind bars for the rest of their lives.

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Toni W
Toni W2 years ago

This is dreadful news - typical gun happy Police - especially in USA - they are frightened by deer, children, pets, blacks, humans! They need to be trained before being issued a gun!

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Toni W
Toni W2 years ago

Thanks for sharing this sad news.

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Tim C
Tim C2 years ago

ty

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Tracie Padykula
Tracie Padykula2 years ago

Police should be trained to deal with pets. To expect a dog to sit quietly is like expecting a toddler not to cry when scared. Respect the animal's nature if you expect respect in return.

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Carl R
Carl R2 years ago

sick society

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Tim C
Tim C2 years ago

ty

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JOCELYN E
JOCELYN E2 years ago

This is so stupid and insane! it makes me feel so outrages thinking this is happening, what in the heck!!!! asking to a Dog to don't bark, to don't move! come on! is just absurd! please use your common sense, plain common sense here! What a stupid people! beyond words.

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