Lab Dog Owner Loses Lawsuit: Police Shoot Lab, Not alleged Pitbull that Attacked Lab?

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

City wins federal civil rights case over police shooting of dog attacked by pit bull


A downstate Illinois family had sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from the city of Champaign because a color-blind police officer shot their pedigreed chocolate Labrador retriever to death after it was attacked by a stray pit bull.

However, a jury didn’t see the federal civil rights case that way, rendering a defense verdict for the city and its police officer Thursday after deliberating for about an hour, theNews-Gazette reports.

Prior to trial, the city had offered the family a settlement of a little over $10,000; the family had sought more than $300,000, plus attorney fees, another News-Gazette article reports. Their lawsuit alleged a violation of the family’s Fourth Amendment rights for claimed improper government seizure of their property.

Witnesses testified that the slain animal, Sir Austin’s Chocolate Dog, was attacked by an unleashed gray and white pit bull in November 2012. At the time, Dog was being walked about a block from Jacob and Kathy Saathoff’s home by their daughter, Kelsey Markou, an earlier News-Gazette article recounts. When she and bystanders were unable to free Dog from the pit bull, they called police for help.

By the time officer Andre Davis arrived, it was dusk, and Dog, who had been let off his leash by Markou so he could try to defend himself, was on top and seemingly getting the best of the fight.

Davis testified that he had been told by a dispatcher that one dog was near death. Despite attempts by an emotional Markou and others to tell him what was going on, it appeared to him that Dog was the aggressor. Because the situation posed a risk of danger to the people at hand if a dog in the fight refocused his aggression on nearby humans, Davis shot Dog.

As Dog dropped to the ground, the pit bull fled. Davis tried to shoot it as well, but it escaped.

Davis and city officials were regretful about the incident but said the officer’s conduct was reasonable under the circumstances. The jury apparently agreed.

“Mistakes are not compensable. Mistakes do not rise to the level of a federal violation. What he did, we all agree, was a mistake but it was brought on by all these reasons,” said attorney Thomas Yu, who represented the city, after reviewing the evidence with a News Gazette reporter.

“The case is about whether or not he was unreasonable,” Yu told the newspaper, referring to Davis. “I’ll tell you what’s unreasonable. You call the police. The police arrive and protect all the people, and then they turn around and sue that officer and ask a federal jury to award them damages. That’s unreasonable.”

Attorney Stephen Hedinger represented the family and told a reporter he was baffled by the verdict in the case. He argued at trial that Davis’ conduct was not reasonable, in part because the officer’s inability to distinguish colors prevented him from properly identifying the stray pit bull that had attacked Dog.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “2nd Circuit reverses jury verdict for police who shot family’s dog to death in its own yard”

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

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