Should Police Officers Be Fired After They Kill Dogs?

A sheriff's deputy in Texas got canned after he killed a family pet, but does the punishment fit the crime?

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Apr 28 2014, 8:00pm

A dog that will hopefully never interact with a police officer. Photo via Flickr user Andy McLemore

On good Friday, Cole Middleton called the sheriff’s department in Rains County, Texas, to report a break-in, and several hours later deputy Jerrod Dooley responded and shot Middleton’s dog, Candy, in the head. OK, he didn’t immediately shoot Candy: Dashcam footage shows the medium-sized dog barking, then jumping out of the bed of Middleton’s parked pickup truck; Dooley said she “charged” him. The shooting happened off-camera, but the audio picked up Dooley telling Middleton his dog was mortally wounded, and Middleton breaking down at the news. Worse still, Candy seemed to be suffering, but Dooley couldn't bring himself to shoot her again, and the burglars has taken Middleton’s guns, so the owner took it upon himself to drown his beloved pet to put her out of her misery. When other officers arrived on the scene, Middleton began filming them, and one deputy can be seen waving to the camera and saying, “Hi mom! Hi channel 8! Hi Youtube!” which upset Middleton even more.

In the past few days, the media jumped on the story. Tens of thousands of people liked Middleton’s Facebook page, and some of his supporters made angry (and occasionally threatening) phone calls to the Rains County Sheriff’s Department. After all that, Dooley was fired on Thursday. Middleton is pleased by this, but according to his Go Fund Me donation page—which has raised nearly $25,000—he still intends to pursue a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department for animal cruelty as well as “illegal search and seizure (opening the doors to our house without permission).” Middleton will use any leftover money to advocate for better animal interaction training at police departments—a worthy cause, since stories about cops shooting dogs for no good reason are depressingly common. (The police have even shot Chihuahuas and bulldogs on leashes.)

When cops kill dogs, it’s generally later ruled that the officers were justified in their actions. So firing Dooley seems like the right move—yet the deputy teared up while talking about the incident in an interview and called himself a dog lover. He said he isn’t going to challenge his firing, he just wishes people would stop sending his family death threats. Watching that interview, it seems like a case of a guy screwing up in a moment of stupidity and fear, and understanding that he has caused a lot of pain. If all law enforcement officers everywhere were seen grieving over the times they had mistakenly shot dogs (or people) like Dooley was, perhaps that could start a conversation about how communities, victims, and cops deal with the aftermath of such situations. There’s no question the police should be trained to deal with animals better, but firing one cop who seems really, truly sorry seems somehow unsatisfying.

Now for the rest of this week’s bad cops:

-Dooley’s mistake pales in comparison to a lot of police misconduct that goes on. For instance, five members of the Philadelphia Police Department who have spent five years being investigated for theft, misconduct, lying on search warrants, cutting security cameras in stores before looting them, and a laundry list of other crimes may get put back on the force without being punished at all. A grand jury heard the allegations but declined to pursue them, and neither local or federal district attorneys seem interested in the case. A local DA will, however, look into allegations of sexual assault from two women who identified one of the cops, narcotics officer Thomas Tolstoy, as the perpetrator.

-In could-have-been-much-worse-but-damn news, a Bakersfield, California, woman and her five children were frightened by cops breaking down her door on April 19. Jessica Walker had just enough time to see cops outside before they smashed down the front entrance and demanded at gunpoint that she lie down on the floor. Police were searching for Walker’s neighbor who was wanted because he was a felon in possession of a gun (an informant reportedly gave police the wrong address). Walker didn’t realize this until the officers had searched her entire apartment while her children cried. She—and they—are understandably shaken by the experience.

-On Tuesday, a grand jury decided that a Euharlee, Georgia, police officer’s shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old in February was not a legal use of force. On Valentine’s Day, officer Beth Gatny came to the home of Christopher Roupe in order to serve a probation warrant on his father. Gatny said she shot Roupe once in the chest when he came to the door holding a pistol pointed at the officer, while Roupe’s family and other sources said that the boy was holding a Wii controller. The grand jury also suggested the the local district attorney pursue criminal charges against Gatny—one more step on the long road to handing down a real punishment to the officer.

-An April 27 piece in the Green Bay Press-Gazette documented the backlash in Appleton, Wisconsin, after the local police department acquired a 30-ton military vehicle last month thanks to the Pentagon’s 1033 grant program. Appleton, population 73,000, will share the Caiman truck with the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. Certainly there are smaller towns that have acquired excessive SWAT-style gear, and the backlash is likely in vain, but it’s nice to see people voicing their displeasure at the creeping militarism of the cops.

-This is gross and awkward and all, but the Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies who bothered to concoct a sting to arrest a Scottsdale, Arizona, woman who used Craigslist to advertise her desire to fellate a horse need to find something better to do. Yeah, bestiality is illegal in Arizona, but she wasn’t really close to breaking the law, she was just talking about doing it. I’m sure there are more worthwhile crimes to investigate.

-Two plainclothes police officers in West Philadelphia shot a food delivery guy on Tuesday night, leaving him in critical condition.The cops were responding to another shooting when they encountered Philippe Holland, clad in a hoodie and having just finished delivered a cheeseburger. Details are still unclear, but Holland either didn’t hear the identifying shout of “police” that may or may not have come, or he thought the guys were impersonating officers. In any case, Holland got into his car quickly, and the police fired a total of 14 shots in his direction when he drove toward them. Three of the bullets hit Holland. Police commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has made sympathetic public comments about the incident, and mentioned the officers feel terrible about the 20-year-old’s condition, so it sounds as if this is going to end up as one of those officers-acted-in-good-faith-and-reacted-to-split-second-conditions things, which means they won’t be charged.

-In better Tuesday night news, a cop in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, saved a woman from a heroin overdose by quickly administering the drug Narcan, making him our Good Cop of the Week. Earlier this month, another Seaside Heights officer saved someone with Narcan. Preventing drug overdoses is the opposite of arresting people who have said they wanted to blow horses: a very good use of the cops’ time.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter.

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