A recent ruling out of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals may change the way dog owners train their pets, especially around the police.
On Wednesday, the 6th Court of Appeals, from Cincinnati upheld a ruling from lower courts that dismissed a case against Battle Creek, Michigan police officers who shot and killed two dogs while executing a search warrant at a family residence.
The case, brought up by homeowners Mark and Cheryl Brown of Battle Creek, was brought forth in April after police raided their home in search of drugs. It was during this search that the family’s two pit-bulls were shot and killed by officers. The Browns argued that the shooting of the pets was an “unreasonable seizure” of their property, and a violation of their 4th Amendment rights, according to The Battle Creek Enquirer.
The court’s opinion, written by Judge Eric Clay, read:
“The standard we set out today is that a police officer’s use of deadly force against a dog while executing a warrant to search a home for illegal drug activity is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when, given the totality of the circumstances and viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer, the dog poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety.”
The question then became: what is an “imminent threat,” and what occurred between the dogs and the officers?
The Washington Examiner reports that the Browns’ dogs were considered an imminent threat because they were barking and moving around. Testimony from one of the officers claimed that he shot the first pit-bull after it moved “a few inches” in a movement that he considered to be a “lunge.” That dog then, according to the Washington Examiner, retreated to the basement, where the officer followed and shot it and the second dog. This left the first animal dead, and severely wounded the second.
“Officer Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement,” the court’s opinion explained. “The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was ‘just standing there,’ barking and was turned sideways to the officers. Klein then fired the first two rounds at the second dog.”
The Washington Examiner continued their explanation, saying that after the second dog was wounded and retreated into a corner, a second officer shot and killed the animal, instead of rendering help. Judge Clay’s opinion on the case explained the situation as:
“Officer Case saw that ‘there was blood coming out of numerous holes in the dog, and … [Officer Case] didn’t want to see it suffer, so he put her out of her misery and fired the last shot,”
As stated above, the court ultimately dismissed the Browns’ case, explaining that the family failed to provide contrary evidence to the officer’s testimony that the dogs “lunged” and “barked.” Judge Clay also wrote in his opinion that Mark Brown’s testimony, which stated that he did not hear any barking when officers approached the home, had no effect on whether the dogs were an imminent threat upon entry, said The Washington Examiner.
The Battle Creek Enquirer spoke to the Chief of Battle Creek PD, Jim Blocker, who stated that, “It was a good ruling. It pointed out some things we have to improve upon, but supported our operating concept that officers must act within reason.” Blocker noted that, “officers already know that dogs are not the guilty party. The animals are typically among the innocent.” He continued, “Officers have milliseconds to make a decision and it is a judgment call and based on too many variables. Ensuring officer safety and preventing the destruction of evidence must be protected.” Blocker concluded his statement by saying “most of our officers are dog owners themselves, and I want to know if we hurt a dog. They are going to have to explain themselves.”