Editor’s note: While the judge ruled in favor of the officers in this particular case, it is not a blanket ruling for police across the country.
A police officer can shoot a dog if it barks or moves when the officer enters a home, under a new federal court ruling issued this month.
The ruling comes after police in Battle Creek, Michigan, shot two pit bulls while searching a home for evidence of drugs in 2013.
The dogs’ owners, Mark and Cheryl Brown, filed a lawsuit against the Battle Creek Police Department and the city, claiming that killing the dogs amounted to the unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The district court sided with the police officers and the Browns filed an appeal with United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The lawsuit states that when officers arrived to conduct the search, Mark Brown told an officer he had a key to the front door and that his two dogs were in the residence. However, another officer testified that he didn’t hear about the comments before police broke down the door.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Christof Klein testified that when he entered the house, a large, brown pit bull jumped off the couch, aggressively barked at the officers and lunged at him.
Officer Klein stated that the first pit bull “had only moved a few inches” between the time when he entered the residence and when he shot her, but he considered the movement to be a “lunge.”
Another officer stated that “the amount of time between the door coming open and the shot was extremely small… maybe a second or less.”
Klien stated that after he fire the shot, the dog “moved away from the officers and towards the kitchen, then down the stairs and into the basement.” A smaller, white pit bull had also gone down into the basement.
“As the officers were descending the stairs to clear the basement, they noted that the first pit bull was at the bottom of the stairs,” the lawsuit states. “Klein testified that the first pit bull obstructed the path to the basement, and that he ‘did not feel [the officers] could safely clear the basement with those dogs down there.'”
“When the officers were halfway down the stairs, the first dog, who was at the bottom of the staircase, turned towards them and started barking again. From the staircase, Officer Klein fired two fatal rounds at the first pit bull,” the lawsuit states.
“Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement. The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was ‘just standing there’… barking,” the lawsuit continues.
Klein fired two rounds at the second dog.
After being shot by Officer Klein, the second dog ran to the back corner of the basement. Then a second officer shot her because she was “moving” out of the corner and in his direction, the lawsuit states.
The wounded pit bull ran behind the furnace in the back corner of the basement. A third officer noted that “[there] was blood coming out of numerous holes in the dog, and . . . [he] didn’t want to see it suffer” so he shot her again, to “put her out of her misery.”
On Dec. 19, the appeals court issued a ruling stating that the officers acted reasonably in the case and the Browns’ constitutional rights were not violated.
“The seizures of the dogs in this case were reasonable given the specific circumstances surrounding the raid,” the court ruled.
“[It] was reasonable for the officers to force entry because they had information that [a known gang member] used the residence to distribute cocaine and heroin, and they did not know whether gang members would be in the residence armed and ready to fire at the officers,” the ruling states.
“[The] officers would not have used the keys Mark Brown offered to give them because the officers would not have had any idea whether those keys were the correct keys. Defendants’ counsel persuasively argued that Mark Brown could have given the officers the wrong set of keys, and the resulting delay could have given somebody in the house the opportunity to destroy the drugs or time to prepare to attack or shoot the officers as they entered the residence,” the ruling states.
You can read the full court ruling here.