Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shooting Strays in Iowa, Not a Last Resort for One Police Chief

West Branch, Iowa, was the birthplace of Herbert Hoover. There would have been a time when an affiliation with Herbert Hoover might not have been touted very much. West Branch had another problem in 2002, a police chief who shot a dog. On February 28 of that year, the city administrator got a call about a large black dog running loose and bothering other dogs. The police chief, Dan Knight, drove around the neighborhood in his squad car and saw the dog several times. The Eighth Circuit describes what happened next:

“Finally, Knight parked his car in the driveway of 417 North Maple Street, the Andrewses' home, because he had seen a large black dog in the backyard at that address. He walked toward the fenced backyard with a dog leash in his pocket and fired two shots at the dog; immediately, he realized he had shot the wrong dog. Jana Andrews, the owner of the dog, was standing on her back patio just a few feet away from her dog, Riker, when he was shot. She had just let Riker out to go to the bathroom inside the Andrewses' enclosed, fenced-in backyard. Riker had been badly wounded by Knight's first two shots, so Knight decided to shoot Riker a third time to end Riker's suffering. Riker had not been wearing his collar and tags at the time he was shot, but he was current on his distemper and rabies boosters.”

The district court granted summary judgment to West Branch and Knight, but the circuit court took its own look at the law. A city ordinance provided: “Officers should utilize all available methods to obtain capture of animals running at large. The discharging of a firearm at an animal should be considered as a last resort and then only when conditions are safe to do so."

The Eighth Circuit concluded:

“The relevant state statute and local regulations mandate that all means of capturing an at-large dog be exhausted before resorting to killing the animal. testified that as he approached the enclosed fence in which Riker was standing, he held a leash in one hand and a gun on his hip. He had not attempted to communicate with anyone in the Andrews home, he had not requested back-up or the tranquilizer dart gun, and the dog was not exhibiting any aggression at the time Knight pulled into the Andrewses' driveway. Taking the facts in this light, we hold that Officer Knight knew at the time he shot Riker that he was violating the Andrewses' clearly established right to be free from unreasonable seizures of property.”

The circuit court remanded for a jury trial. Knight was briefly demoted and soon resigned. Andrews v. The City of West Branch, 454 F.3d 914 (8th Cir. 2006).

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