Failure to properly train police officers to safely capture dogs may cost cities

May 3, 2013

Failure to properly train police officers to safely capture dogs may cost cities in a lawsuit. In recent cases, not only has the Fourth Amendment been used against a city who employees a police officer who kills family dogs, now failure to train has been used in a case in Missouri.

It was announced this week that a man in LaGrange has agreed to a settlement of $50,000 in the death of his dog, who was killed in 2010 by a LaGrange police officer. The case was filed in January 2012 at the federal court in St. Louis regarding the March 2010 shooting of an 18-month old American bulldog named Cammie.

Cammie, who was a family dog owned by Marcus Mays, was reported to police as being at large after a neighbor said the dog growled at her daughter. By the time LaGrange police arrived, Cammie was secured to a trailer. The police responding to the call removed the dog from where she was secured and went about confining her using a catch pole.

As the frightened dog struggled to get away, Officer Doug Howell, fearing for his life, drew his gun and shot Cammie in the shoulder. He fired the head shot that killed her after she dropped to the ground and was no longer a danger to anyone. The entire event was recorded on a dash cam and has been viewed over a million times on YouTube.

Not only was the LaGrange Police Department sued in the lawsuit, so was the city of LaGrange for failing to train the officer on how to safely secure a dog without the use of lethal force. The attorney for Mays’ said it was outside the officer’s responsibility to kill the dog, and that lethal force was unreasonable.

Hopefully, this case will serve as a warning to cities across the country with police officers who can’t tell the difference between a dog coming over to say hello and one attacking them. Almost daily, another innocent family dog is killed by officers who should have received better training. Especially on how to read dog behavior.

In a recent article, this writer reported on a PDF downloadable document put out by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The document, titled The Problem of Dog Related Incidents and Encounters has a paragraph where the Department of Justice call the type of officer who doesn’t use alternative methods “insufficiently trained.” The article went on to state “Any officer who judges a dog by its breed instead of its behavior and believes any dog coming toward them is about to attack is in need of training. So are officers who lack knowledge of animal welfare groups, skills in reading dog body language or are inept at communicating with family dogs.”

This isn’t the only recent publication to address the problem. In a Law Enforcement Today article this writer published a few months ago, police were warned of lawsuits stemming from the unnecessary shooting of a family dog.

The LaGrange lawsuit was based on the Fourth Amendment right of illegal seizure, but similar cases are going to court with charges of negligence when police don’t use non-lethal methods to secure a dog. This is what happened in the case of Santa Clara vs Hells Angels(2006).

Police should be held responsible for not using more humane methods, such as Tasers, when a family dog is unnecessarily killed. And the cities who employee those officers should take these most recent cases as a warning of what will happen if dog behavior training for all officers doesn’t soon become a reality.



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