Civil Liberties



Infuriating story from San Diego's City Beat:

Around noon on Tuesday, Dec. 2, [Demarkus] Peeples was watching TV at home when he heard a knock at the front door. When he looked out the door's top window, he saw a group of men standing on his porch wearing jeans and T-shirts, a couple of them looking a little ratty. To get a better look, he went to a side window and peeked through the drawn blinds. "Honestly, they looked like they were transients," he said.

The men, it ends up, were undercover narcotics officers who were there on a complaint about drug activity at that address—Peeples was later told that it had to do with a "chemical smell." Peeples said the men—he estimates there were six—never announced who they were.

Peeples waited until they circled back to the front of his house, at which point he opened his back door to investigate.  That's when his dog, a three-year-old Staffy named Eygpt ran out.  Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, except that one of the police officers had left the backyard gate open. The dog ran out, and down Peeple's driveway toward the officers, at which point they shot it three times.  Even the police concede the dog never attacked. They shot it as it was running toward them.

It only gets worse from there. The police then arrested Peeples on the charge of assault with a deadly weapon—the weapon being his now dying dog.  Peeples says they then euthanized his dog, despite his explicit instructions not to.

Animal Control spokesperson Dan DeSousa said Peeples' verbal authorization to euthanize Egypt was witnessed by a second officer, but Peeples insists he never gave permission. "Do not kill my dog; do everything you can to save my dog," he remembers yelling. When he saw Chris Victor, his neighbor, he asked him to make sure Egypt was kept alive. Victor said he called animal control to let them know he'd cover any cost for Egypt's care, but by the time his call got through, Egypt had been euthanized. DeSousa said the dog was put down immediately after arriving.

The police didn't find the meth lab they were presumably looking for.  They did apparently find a misdemeanor amount of marijuana in Peeple's garage—marijuana that, according to the article, was "so old that it disintegrated upon contact."

These stories seem to be popping up with increasing frequency.  Three weeks ago, police in Waldorf, Maryland shot a family dog in front of two small children while attempting to serve papers on a man who no longer lived at the address.  They claim the dog charged them.  Last month, police in Indianapolis put nine bullets in a German Shepherd.  They ignored warning signs about the dog posted on the property before walking in to serve a warrant on a man who hadn't lived at the address in years.  Just last week, police in Gwinnett County, Georgia shot and killed a Dalmatian after entering the wrong garage to serve a warrant in a gang-related case. 

Milwaukee resident Virginia Villo is suing that city for the 2004 police shooting of her lab-springer spaniel mix, Bubba.  As part of her lawsuit, she requested police reports of every dog killed by Milwaukee police over a nine-year period.  The request turned up 434 dead puppy reports, or about one every seven-and-a-half days.

See more puppycide stories from recent months here, here, and here.  Or browse stories from the last couple of years here.

Note too that none of these more recent incidents were associated with drug raids (that's a different problem).  They're cases where the police walked or drove onto private property (usually at the wrong address), were confronted by the dog that lived on that property, interepreted—correctly or not—the dog's barks or gestures to be threatening, then shot the animal.  Last August, video surfaced of a case in Oklahoma where an officer pulled into a woman named Tammy Christopher's driveway to ask directions.  When Christopher's Wheaton Terrier ran out of the house to greet the officer (the dog appears to be bounding in the video)—still on Christopher's property—the officer shoots the dog dead. Christopher released the video to a local news station when the police department wouldn't listen to her complaint.

What's troubling is how often in these stories the police officer's first reaction is to fire his weapon at the animal.  I suppose that reaction might be understandable if the dog is, say, a pit bull, given that type of dog's (not entirely deserved) reputation.  But black labs? Dalmatians? Springer spaniels? A Jack Russell Something's clearly amiss when a police officer can stroll onto the private property of someone who's doing nothing illegal, be confronted by a dog who's merely doing what dogs do—defending his territory—shoot the dog dead, and get nothing but full support from his superiors. Moreover, many of these shootings have happened in neighborhoods, inside of homes, and in a few cases, directly in front of children.  You'd think there would be some public safety concerns, too.

Police departments should be training officers how to deal with dogs in ways other than filling them full of bullets.  Cops should be taught, for example, how to tell a charging dog from a bounding one; an angry dog from a barking but playful one; and that a curious or territorial bark is much less threatening than a snarl.  Mailmen, firemen, paramedics, and the rest of us non-badge-wearing citizens manage to visit private homes and deal with the dogs that may reside in them without resorting gunfire.  It's odd that not insignificant number of police officers can't.

There are plenty of ways of safely dealing with even a large, aggressive dog that fall far short of shooting it. I don't know what percentage of police departments offer this sort of training, but it seems clear that quite a few of them don't.