Posted in Police on October 25, 2016
Residents of California trust state and local police officers to protect and serve – always acting in the best interests of the community. Sadly, police-related pet shootings have shattered this image for dozens of families. When an officer shoots, injuries, and kills a pet, a grieving owner may not know what to do or how to seek justice. Police forces exacerbate this issue by leaving pet owners in the dark about crucial facts regarding these fatal shootings, such as the officer’s name or badge number. Such was the case for one outraged family in San Diego after the death of their beloved dog, Grizzly.
Grizzly’s death happened on the Fuentes’ family property, within a gated area of the yard. San Diego police were investigating a crime in the area around 12:45 a.m., and entered the Fuentes property to try to interview a possible witness. The officer closed the gate behind him and walked toward the front door, at which point Grizzly, a mixed breed dog of about four years old, charged the officer. Instead of using the taser or pepper spray the officer had on his person, he pulled out a firearm and shot Grizzly three times.
The Fuentes family says the officer ignored three Beware of Dog signs posted on the gate when he entered the yard. After the shooting, the acting Captain left the responsibility of the badly injured dog to the owners – the protocol in officer-involved pet shootings. Grizzly died of his injuries around 1:30 a.m., leaving the Fuentes family devastated and demanding answers. Although the San Diego PD offers dog-specific training, it’s optional for officers. It’s unknown whether the officer who shot Grizzly had taken this training.
The killing of pets, particularly dogs, by law enforcement has been a subject of great consternation for years. Grizzly’s death is just one of hundreds of similar cases throughout the nation. According to a report by the San Diego County Grand Jury, officer-involved shootings injured or killed 56 dogs across the county between 2010 and 2014. Almost half – 22 – of these incidents occurred in the City of San Diego.
When police officers injure or kill pets, several different state and local laws come into play. A pet owner may have grounds for a cause of action against the officer based on property laws. California’s state laws define dogs as personal property. Thus, owners may be able to recover for wrongful injury or death of their pets. There are statutes, however, that pertain to loose dogs or those endangering persons or properties. An owner’s rights to a lawsuit will vary significantly depending on the circumstances of the shooting.
Officer-involved shootings of pets may also involve the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects a citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable seizures of property. The unreasonable destruction of property – in this case, the death of a dog – is unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. However, using this defense would require the plaintiff to prove the officer’s conduct was unreasonable, which may be possible with the correct evidence. In the case of the Fuentes’ loss, for example, the family could possibly argue that the officer reasonably could have used non-deadly force to stop the dog.
The legal sphere surrounding officer-involved pet shootings is hazy, with multiple laws that may or may not relate to specific cases. While there’s no denying the tragic nature of these incidents in California, pet owners’ rights against law enforcement officials have limits. If a pet owner wants to pursue litigation against an officer or agency in lieu of an officer-involved pet injury or death, he or she needs to hire a skilled local lawyer to explore every possible avenue for pursuing a claim.