A Missouri Police Officer Shot a Blind and Deaf Dog. Now He's Being Sued.

The town of Sturgeon initially defended the officer, saying he was afraid of being bitten by the 13-pound blind and deaf Shih Tzu.


A man has filed a lawsuit against the town of Sturgeon, Missouri, a little more than a week after a police officer shot and killed his small, blind, and deaf dog.

In a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Nicholas Hunter alleges that Officer Myron Woodson and the city of Sturgeon violated his Fourth Amendment rights when Woodson killed Teddy, his 13-pound blind and deaf Shih Tzu, shortly after finding the dog wandering in a neighbor's yard on May 19.

"Woodson's warrantless seizure of Teddy was unnecessary, callous, and egregious as it was unwarranted by law and violative of Plaintiff Hunter's most fundamental and guaranteed of constitutional rights," Hunter's lawsuit says. "At no time during the encounter between Teddy and Defendant Woodson did Teddy show any aggression towards Defendant Woodson. Teddy never barked, growled, or even moved towards Defendant Woodson. Instead, the small, blind and deaf dog simply kept trying to walk away, oblivious to the danger that Defendant Woodson posed to him."

The shooting has outraged the town's residents, especially after body camera footage obtained by a local news outlet contradicted the officer and city officials' narrative of events. The mayor of Sturgeon resigned last Saturday evening after defending the shooting for several days, and Woodson has been placed on leave.

The shooting, though, is only an egregious example of a phenomenon that is so common that it has its own tag on Reason's website: "puppycide." No one knows exactly how many dogs police shoot around the country, but every year there are more cases of wanton killings that, besides terrorizing owners, generate huge lawsuits, viral outrage, and in rare instances result in officers being fired, such as the case of an Arkansas officer who casually killed a nine-pound dog.

The incident in Sturgeon started when Teddy dug under Hunter's backyard fence while Hunter was out at dinner and escaped, leaving its collar behind in the process. A neighbor called a county dispatch center to report that the dog had wandered into their yard and to get help finding its owner. According to Hunter's lawsuit, the caller responded, "No, not at all," when asked if the dog was aggressive.

The town of Sturgeon's official Facebook page actually posted an alert on May 19 about the missing dog, along with photos of Teddy: "Do you know this doggie? Joint communications has been notified. The doggie seems in need of medical attention."

Medical attention was not what the doggie received. Woodson arrived on the scene, and a few minutes later he shot Teddy twice.

In the meantime, Hunter had been called and told about the Facebook post. He was on his way to pick up Teddy, but arrived too late.

A day later, the city of Sturgeon posted on Facebook about the incident, defending Woodson's decision: "Based on the behavior exhibited by the dog, believing the dog to be severely injured or infected with rabies, and as the officer feared being bitten and being infected with rabies, the SPD officer felt that his only option was to put the animal down," Sturgeon wrote. "It was later learned that the animal's behavior was because the animal was blind. Unfortunately, the animal's lack of a collar or tags influenced the SPD Officer's decision to put the animal down due to his belief that the animal was injured, sick and abandoned."

Both Hunter and the neighbor filed complaints with the city. "I cannot stress enough that this animal was in no way a threat to others," the neighbor, whose complaint was obtained by local news outlet ABC 17, wrote. "Woodson discharged his firearm multiple times in a residential area without a threat presenting itself, without warning."

ABC 17 also obtained Woodson's body camera footage, which showed that Teddy was never aggressive and didn't bark or growl. Woodson tried to lasso Teddy with a catch pole—a common tool used in animal control—but the dog simply shook its head free of the rope and trotted away. After fumbling the catch pole several times, Woodson drew his gun and killed Teddy. ABC 17 reported that Woodson's entire encounter with Teddy, from exiting his car to putting two bullets in the animal, lasted three minutes and six seconds.

After body camera footage was released, Sturgeon doubled down.

"The City believes that the officer acted within his authority based on the information available to him at the time to protect against possible injury to citizens from what appeared to be an injured, sick, and abandoned dog," Sturgeon posted in a follow-up Facebook post.

Of course, it would have been embarrassing to admit the real reason that the officer resorted to using his gun: He was unable to snare a blind, deaf dog and was too poorly trained to come up with a solution besides shooting a harmless animal.

But police habitually lie about the behavior of dogs that they shoot. Dogs are almost always described in incident reports as snarling, aggressive, or lunging, and because department policies typically allow police to shoot dogs when they feel afraid for their safety, these shootings are almost always deemed justified.

For example, last year in Missouri a police officer shot a family's dog and dumped it in a ditch. Similar to Hunter's case, the dog had gotten loose during a storm, and a neighbor called to report it missing. In another case last year, Detroit cops killed a woman's dog and dumped its body in a trash can. An Arkansas woman also filed a lawsuit after a cop accidentally shot her while trying to kill her Pomeranian—a toy breed that resembles a Koosh ball with legs.

This is the sort of behavior that's flagged as sociopathic when committed by anyone who's not represented by a police union.

And it's the sort of behavior that can cost a small town like Sturgeon quite a lot of money, as city officials are surely fretting now. After Sturgeon's mayor resigned last Friday, the acting mayor posted on Sturgeon's Facebook account: "Like you we were just as appalled by what we saw. The actions of the Officer involved are not the values and beliefs of the residents of Sturgeon or the board of Alderman. Currently I have made calls to the Boone County Sheriff to meet and discuss an investigation."

The city of Sturgeon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.