Detroit Argues Dogs Killed in Drug Raid Were 'Contraband' Because They Were Unlicensed

Sorry, Detroit says, no Fourth Amendment protections against police shooting your dog if it's not licensed.


Uli Deck/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

The city of Detroit argued in a recently filed court motion that a woman can't sue police for shooting three of her dogs during a drug raid because the animals were unlicensed "contraband."

Nikita Smith filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year against the Detroit Police Department after a narcotics raid left three of her dogs shot to death. The lawsuit characterized the police as a "dog death squad" and claimed officers shot one of her dogs through a closed bathroom door. Graphic photos from the raid on Smith's house showed one dog laying dead in the blood-soaked bathroom.

Her case is only one of several lawsuits that have been filed against the Detroit Police Department (DPD) for dog shootings over the past two years. A Reason investigation last year found the DPD's Major Violators Unit, which conducts drug raids in the city, has a track record of leaving dead dogs in its wake. One officer alone had shot 69 dogs over the course of his career, according to public records.

Pets are considered property under the Fourth Amendment, protecting them from unlawful seizure (read: killing) by law enforcement. However, lawyers for the city of Detroit argue in a March 15 motion for summary judgement in Smith's suit that her dogs were unlicensed, and therefore she does not have a legitimate property interest in the animals.

According to the Detroit Metro Times, Michigan law requires dogs to be licensed to prove they have been vaccinated against rabies. The city's motion compares Smith to a minor with an alcoholic beverage, or a person with a bag of pot without a medical marijuana card, neither of whom would have a legitimate property interest protecting them from police seizures.

"Without being licensed, an unlicensed dog is property which is unlawful to possess or contraband," the city argues. "As the courts have indicated, there is no legitimate property interest protected by the 4th Amendment in contraband."

Smith's lawyer, Chris Olson, says the city's argument doesn't hold water.

"There is no case that holds that there is no legitimate property interest in unlicensed dogs, period. None," Smith says. "Which is why they didn't cite any. Second, Michigan's Dog Law of 1919 does not support their argument, either, and then there's that thing we're all familiar with called the Supremacy Clause, which makes it impossible for a city or state law to trump the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment is the supreme law of land."

The city's motion also disputes Smith's narrative of events and says the dogs were charging officers when they were shot.

Police arrested Smith for possession of marijuana, but the charges were dropped when officers failed to appear at her court date.

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  1. So suddenly these people think that 4th Amendment protections aren’t suspended in cases of drug enforcement? CASE DISMISSED.

  2. I don’t think I want someone in my town’s police force who has killed 69 dogs.

    1. You have no say in the matter.

    2. 2 is too many.

    3. This is how you know it isn’t just a “few bad apples” problem. This is what they are trained to do.

      This didn’t exist before they started training all police with “SWAT tactics”. As has been documented here at Reason, the initial training was that in a firefight with drug dealers or others who had a dog protecting them, you shoot the dog rather than become distracted by dealing with the animal while under fire. This makes tactical sense.

      What that has morphed into is “you can shoot their dog if it barks at you or if you just feel like it”.

      The fact that the department and the union always stand behind their man when this happens lets you know that this is by design, not some accident of circumstances.

      Sure, you have an actual bad apple here – 69 dogs? Really? – but the real story is that the people in charge want it that way. If they didn’t, it would be easy enough to change.

  3. So this was such a serious crime that police officers had to charge in to the house, putting themselves in imminent danger, and giving them no choice but to kill her dogs, and yet they can’t be bothered to show up for her court date?

  4. “Police arrested Smith for possession of marijuana, but the charges were dropped when officers failed to appear at her court date.”

    Wow, so that’s some pretty obvious FYTW. So it was a drug raid, they arrested her for possession of marijuana, but then they failed to show up for court. I…have no words for how bullshit this entire story is.

    Thanks for the nut check, I guess. =/

    1. I…have no words for how bullshit this entire story is.

      One word: Detroit

      Basically any Democratic One Party State city, owned by Dems for over 50 years, will be a banana republic hell hole.

  5. Not a brickbat?

  6. Nut Punch!

  7. Detroit is arguing that they can write laws which override the constitution.


    1. The U.S constitution doesn’t apply to Detroit.

  8. What about animal cruelty, destruction of property and infliction of emotional distress?

    1. not relevant if you are the state. Remember the State owns us.

  9. This is coming from Reason where marriages are required state licensing? Pretty funny!

  10. Sorry, Detroit says, no Fourth Amendment protections against police shooting your dog if it’s not licensed.

    I thought shooting the dog and making the children lie in the dog’s pool of blood while it bled out was policy.

    All policies followed! Good shoot!

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