A ruling from the 6th Circuit Court serves as a warning to dog owners: Teach your dog to sit still and be quiet or risk police justifiably shooting the dog.
Mark and Cheryl Brown petitioned the court to hold the city and police officers from Battle Creek, Mich., accountable for shooting and killing their dogs while executing a search warrant of their home looking for evidence of drugs. The plaintiffs said the police officers' actions amounted to the unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The circuit court on Monday agreed with a lower court ruling siding with the police officers.
"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," Judge Eric Clay wrote in the court's opinion.
In the case of the Browns' two pit bulls, the imminent threat came from the dogs barking and moving around. One officer shot the first pit bull after he said it "had only moved a few inches" in a movement that he considered to be a "lunge." The injured dog retreated to the basement, where the officer shot and killed it as well as the second dog while conducting a sweep of the residence.
"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."
After the wounded dog ran into a back corner of the basement, another officer shot the dog rather than seeking help for it.
"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," Clay wrote.
The court decided that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence showing the first dog did not lunge at police officers and that the second dog didn't bark. Clay wrote that Mark Brown's testimony that he didn't hear any barking when the officers approached the residence did not have any impact on whether the dogs were a threat to the officers after they entered the house.