Friday, November 19, 2010
Killing of Rosie the Newfoundland to Undergo Independent Investigation
Was the November 7 shooting death of Rosie the Newfoundland by a Des Moines Police officer – with apparent consent by a sergeant and at least one other patrolman – a justifiable act to protect public safety?
Or did incredibly poor judgment and an appalling absence of common sense – and sensitivity – lead to an act of animal cruelty under state law?
While it’s premature to form a conclusion before the Des Moines Police Department completes its internal investigation, a written statement filed by the officer who pulled the trigger as part of his case report raises serious questions.
And, Mayor Bob Sheckler told The Waterland Blog on Nov. 17, the police department inquiry won’t be the final review of this tragic incident. The city will also have an independent outside agency conduct a separate investigation into the shooting.
In the meantime, this case has generated well over a thousand comments to local blogs, area news organizations, Des Moines council members and the police department, and Newfoundland group websites.
(One e-mail asked The Waterland Blog to clarify that this incident happened “in Washington state, not in Iowa.”)
Yet few people reacting to the death of Rosie have likely had an opportunity to read the written case report. Here, lifted in context, are key excerpts from the report filed by Des Moines Police Officer Graddon, who fired the four gunshots that killed Rosie.
After police were dispatched to the location where Rosie was wandering in the street, “The dog was barking at us, repeatedly, in a deep non-stop bark. As I attempted to get closer to the dog, it would start to get close to me, and would not back away….”
One of the officers took a digital photo of Rosie and sent it to Des Moines Animal Control Officer Jan Magnuson, who was off duty that Sunday. Magnuson advised them that she didn’t recognize the dog.
This was the last contact with Magnuson indicated in the report until after Rosie was gunned down. The report continues:
“As officers continued to attempt to approach the dog with the catchpole, the dog would come towards them, barking and showing its teeth. On two separate occasions, the dog charged at us quickly, and retreaded after shouts of, ‘Bad Dog Go Home’….
“Officer Arico deployed his Tazer, striking the dog in its side with two dart probe contacts. The dog immediately began to yelp, and ran off with minimal effect … As the dog was running, it appeared to be limping.”
Graddon reported that he then Tasered Rosie with minimal effect. She ran off again and was followed by the officers.
“The dog was located in a partially fenced yard hiding in the blackberry bushes … I observed the dog in the blackberry bushes, as it was facing me … I felt both my safety, and the safety of the public was in jeopardy because of this dogs vicious behaviors, and determined lethal force was necessary.
“Additionally, all other means, such as calling the dog, using a Taser, and a catchpole, had failed in an attempt to detain the dog. All assisting officers were behind me and asked if they were prepared for me to use lethal force on the dog. I was given the OK….”
Graddon then describes firing the four shots that killed Rosie as she cowered, terrified, in the blackberry bushes.
His report indicates that, before the shooting, neither he nor another of the officers called Magnuson a second time for referral to an animal rescue volunteer who could have been summoned to help them safely capture Rosie.
Had that happened, Rosie, who was not wearing a collar but had an ID chip, would have been reunited with her owners. There is also no indication whatsoever that time constraints prohibited them from doing this.
Police officers are trained to react with lethal force when seemingly benign encounters abruptly become life threatening. They are also trained to use lethal force as a last resort and, if at all possible, to use other tactics to subdue perpetrators.
Any police officer in any jurisdiction who fired even a single lethal gunshot at a human offender cornered in a back yard, cowering in blackberry bushes – unless facing a gun or a knife – likely would be charged with manslaughter.
Yet this poor dog, who had no gun, no knife, and was barking and baring her teeth only because she was frightened and threatened, was killed because the officers either didn’t understand this behavior and how to handle dogs – or didn’t care.
And it’s not enough for them to claim they first tried to Taser Rosie, a Newfoundland with a heavy coat – an act of futility that, in itself, suggests a lack of common sense.
There is speculation by many that one or more officers committed an act or acts of first- or second-degree animal cruelty under Washington state law (Revised Code of Washington 16.52.205, RCW 16.52.207, and RCW 16.52.210).
But, after the investigations are completed, it will be up to the King County Prosecutor to make that determination and, if charges are filed, up to a court to convict or acquit.
In the meantime, concrete steps can be taken to make sure than no pet owner – and no pet that is not a clear and present threat to public safety – ever again has to experience such a tragic occurrence.
City police departments and county sheriff’s offices must review now their training procedures for officers in dealing with loose dogs – and other animals – to provide an understanding of their behavior, especially when frightened or threatened, and how to deal with them safely and humanely.
If these training procedures are inadequate, they must be updated straightaway; if there are none, they must be put in place without delay. Pasado Safe Haven and animal rescue groups are good resources for law enforcement agencies that need to do this.
No officer who lacks compassion for animals, while certainly not a prerequisite for law enforcement, should ever handle animal control cases
And law enforcement agencies need a current list of contacts who are available 24/7 to bring in to assist officers in situations such as this. Had that been done in Des Moines on November 7, there is virtually no doubt that Rosie would be alive today.