Vern, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever was shot and killed by a police officer reporting to a possible robbery at the dog owner's home.
A jury has awarded $1.26 million to a family whose dog was shot and killed by a police officer in February 2014, very likely the largest U.S. jury verdict in a police dog shooting. According to a WJZ news report, the three-day trial took place in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County in Maryland. The plaintiff’s attorney, Cary J. Hansel, said the verdict from the jury sends a strong message to police about what the community expects from them. He called the shooting and killing of the dog “senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
Jury Determines Gross Negligence
The dog, Vern, was shot and killed by Anne Arundel County police officer Rodney Price who claimed he was attacked by the dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The dog was killed at its owner’s home. The officer was investigating a neighborhood burglary at the time. The dog’s owner, Mike Reese, said the police officer did not have to shoot the dog and that he could have use pepper spray or a baton instead of pulling out his gun. Jurors determined that the officer was not attacked by the dog and that the shooting violated the dog owner’s constitutional rights.
They also determined that the act was committed with gross negligence. During the trial, Officer Price admitted that the dog did not bite or otherwise injure him before the shooting. He also testified that he did not take any other steps to deal with the dog before pulling out his gun and firing twice. The officer is still employed with the police department. The law firm that handled the case is saying that this is the largest verdict in U.S. history for a police dog shooting.
Dog Shootings by Police on the Rise
The exact number of dogs killed by police officers can be tough to quantify because there is no official record of these deaths across U.S. law enforcement agencies. However, in a Quartz article, Laurel Matthews, a program specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice’s community-oriented policing services office, said fatal encounters between dogs and police are rising in “epidemic” proportions and estimated that 25 to 30 pet dogs are killed daily by police nationwide.
Legally, a dog is viewed as personal property. The constitution guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable government seizures of property. And under the Fourth Amendment, killing counts as seizure.