Two Cases; Dog Killed…One $620,000…the other…….maybe not so much

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

9th Circuit OKs civil rights case over death of 2 dogs shot during execution of search warrant


A divided federal appeals court panel has reversed a summary judgment in favor of police in a civil rights case over two pet dogs shot to death during the execution of a search warrant at the plaintiff’s home in a Las Vegas suburb.

Reviewing the facts alleged by Louisa Thurston in the manner most favorable to the plaintiff in the Section 1983 case, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that material issues of fact precluded summary judgment concerning alleged violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. For example, it was not clear whether the City of North Las Vegas Police Department should have had an animal control officer on hand and why there was a 20-minute delay after the officers’ arrival before the dogs were shot to death, an appellate panel said in a 2-1 Thursday opinion (PDF).

It is marked “not for publication” and hence has limited value as precedent. But it explains the majority’s thinking in refusing to OK the trial judge’s finding that qualified immunity applied to the department and individual officers involved. The 9th Circuit panel did agree with the trial judge that the city itself could not be held liable, since there was “no evidence that the officers shot Thurston’s dogs pursuant to a formal governmental policy or long-standing practice which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the city.”

The slain dogs were a 70-pound pit bull and a 140-pound mastiff, according to the opinion. The search warrant was executed by a SWAT team on Thurston’s husband, Michael Martin, who was wanted on armed robbery charges.

A dissenting judge said he would have affirmed because there was no evidence that the police knew the dogs, who appeared to be confined in the fenced back yard, could get in the house where officers said they acted aggressively.

Thurston told the Las Vegas Review-Journal her dogs were friendly and she wanted to pursue the case to protect other families from going through what she did.

“Why did they do it?” she said of the police officers who, she insisted, saw the big dogs “wiggling their tails” when the SWAT team arrived. “None of them were bitten. … I begged with them not to hurt my dogs.”

Three small dogs that Thurston also owned were not harmed by police, the newspaper notes.

State Sen. David Parks plans to introduce a bill next year that would provide for police to be trained in dog behavior to try to avoid situations in which pets are shot.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

After Seeing Dashcam Video of Deputy Shooting Family Dog, Jury Awards $620K in Civil Rights Case


Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins says his deputy “has felt bad … since day one” about shooting a family pet of Roger and Sandi Jenkins (no relation) on Jan. 9, 2010 at their Taneytown, Md., home.

But that doesn’t mean Timothy Brooks did anything wrong by defending himself against their chocolate Labrador retriever, Brandi, as he and a partner attempted to locate the couple’s son at their home, the sheriff tells the Washington Post (reg. req.).

A jury did not agree, awarding the couple $620,000 on Monday in a civil rights case that turned on whether or not they had permission to search the property, says their lawyer, Cary J. Hansel, of Joseph Greenwald and Laake. Rebekah Lusk of the Thienel Law Firm also represents the family.

The News-Post says the jury found that both the shooting of the dog and a subsequent entry of the Jenkins home by the deputies violated Maryland’s state constitution.

Hansel says the dashcam video of the friendly family pet being shot as she bounded out to greet the sheriff’s deputy was crucial evidence in the case, the Washington Post reports. The dog represented “absolutely zero threat,” the lawyer contends.

While the couple was taking Brandi to the vet for life-saving treatment, the sheriff’s deputies entered their home and found their son hiding inside, the newspaper reports on its Crime Scene page.

There’s no word on whether the county intends to appeal. However, the sheriff told the News-Post he expected insurance to cover the payout to the couple.

“I thought the monetary damages were excessive, but to me the real tragedy here was the finding of gross negligence on the deputies’ part,” he said. “There was nothing that reached that threshold. These guys were just doing their jobs.”

The Baltimore Sun also has a story.

Both the Sun and the WaPo provide a link to the dashcam video clip.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “After Seeing Dashcam Video of Deputy Shooting Family Dog, Jury Awards $620K in Civil Rights Case”

ABAJournal.com: “Federal Jury Upholds City Police in Civil Rights Case Over Death of Family Dog In Yard of Their Home”

ABAJournal.com: “‘Don’t Shoot My Dog’ bill moves forward, would require more police training”

ABAJournal.com: “City ordered to pay $50K in attorney fees in case over police shooting of family’s pet dog”

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