Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Monday, 7 July 2014

Police kill a family pet in the USA every 98 minutes... -

Police kill a family pet in the USA every 98 minutes... - 

A rash of animal shootings by police officers nationwide has law-enforcement agencies running for cover amid growing public outrage that could force state legislatures to require greater accountability from men and women in uniform.

Police in Utah shot a family’s dog while searching for a lost boy, prompting hundreds of pet owners to protest June 28 in front of the Salt Lake City Police Department headquarters. They carried signs demanding “justice for Geist,” a 110-pound Weimaraner shot by a city cop within the dog’s fenced-in back yard. The “missing” boy was later found sleeping in his home.

State police in West Virginia shot a family’s dog June 24 as it was reportedly running away from them during a search for a suspect on adjoining property. Shots rang out even as the dog’s owner was screaming for officers to hold their fire and let her put her dog inside.

In Maryland, two Baltimore police officers were charged last week with animal cruelty after one of them allegedly held down Nala, a 7-year-old Shar-Pei, while the other slit the dog’s throat.

Richard Bruce Rosenthal, general counsel and co-founder of New York-based the Lexus Project, said police across the country are trending toward less tolerance and less respect for people’s pets, which he sees as part of a larger trend toward more aggressive policing tactics in America.

A pet is a person’s property, which should not be summarily executed for doing what dogs naturally do, which is to investigate unknown people or other dogs who approach their territory, he asserted.

“It is a growing problem and part of it is, post 9/11, our judicial system has basically trashed the Constitution under the mantle of security, and personal rights cease to exist,” Rosenthal told WND.

“All over the country we have cops shooting dogs for no other reason than they can. And our courts and our elected officials, rather than protecting the citizens and the Constitution, simply see it as a way to take more power and more money. I think it’s a civil-rights violation. I think it’s a constitutional violation.”

The West Virginia incident happened June 24 in a rural area of Mason County. A paramilitary unit scoured the woods bordering the property of 32-year-old Ginger Sweat. Her dog, a 6-year-old beagle-basset hound named Willy Pete, woke up from an afternoon snooze on his porch to the sound of eight officers coming out of the adjacent woods. Willy Pete scampered off to investigate. Sweat, who was putting one of her two young children down for a nap, looked out the window and saw an officer with a police dog on a leash emerge from the woods and ran out outside pleading with the officers not to shoot her dog, begging them to let her bring it inside.

The officer shot once, missing Willy Pete but sending the dog, which had arthritis in its back legs, running back toward Sweat, she told the Charleston Daily Mail. Three more shots were fired in the dog’s direction, toward Sweat and the home where her two children were sleeping, Sweat told the local newspaper. Willy Pete was hit three times and fell dead in a pool of blood behind her mobile home.

The family created a Facebook page called “Justice for Willy Pete,” which as of June 30 had 5,642 “likes” and hundreds of comments expressing sympathy and outrage.

The West Virginia State Police released a detailed statement late Monday night apologizing to the Sweat family but providing a conflicting version of what led up to the shooting of their dog. From the agency’s perspective, Willy Pete was given a chance to back off but “growled and bared his teeth” at the officers. That’s when Sgt. S.T. Harper, a 14-year veteran of the force, shot him, said spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous.

Baylous previously told WND that anytime an officer discharges his weapon, the incident comes under routine investigation.

He could not say how many times the department’s officers have shot and killed someone’s pet over the past year.

“It’s so rare; I can’t think of the last time it happened,” Baylous said. “I have no knowledge of what is happening nationwide, but it’s not a regular occurrence with the West Virginia State Police. We shoot far less animals than we do people who are a threat.”

But State House Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said he believes it would be a mistake to view the killing of Willy Pete as an isolated incident in West Virginia. He said it happens more often than most people realize, but most cases go unreported in the media. He’s launched an investigation and is pushing for new rules that would hold officers accountable. He sent an email to the State Police seeking more information on the June 24 incident in Mason County.

If he doesn’t get the answers he is seeking, Manypenny said he’s prepared to take the next step.

“I hope we can get some answers because we do need to find out what happened so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Manypenny told WND. “I’m asking them to introduce a rule on nonlethal methods that can be used against domesticated animals, and if they won’t do it voluntarily, we need the legislature to require them to introduce a rule for nonlethal action.”

Manypenny said he believes that if the story told by the Sweat family is accurate, the police overreacted.

“I don’t know how far we’d want to go to put provisions in the law requiring unpaid leave or dismissal of an officer if they’re found to put people’s pets in endangerment, but yeah, I think it was totally uncalled for,” he sad. “But I want to call for an investigation rather than just shoot from the hip when we don’t have all of the details of what went on. So far, I’ve put in an email requesting some more transparency from the police.”


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