Bubba, shot and killed by Milwaukee police in 2004It seems we are hearing more and more incidents of dogs being shot by officers of the law, police, deputies, ect. Some, no doubt, are necessary but I think more often then authorities will admit, many are questionable.

You’re hearing again and again that if a dog even starts toward an officer, they retaliation is not a verbal warning, pepper spray, a Taser or any other non-lethal mean, but a gun.

Now it looks like one police department will be called to task for its actions.

The Milwaukee police have shot a lot of dogs, a number of them fatally. Between 1993 and mid-2005, 298 police have shot 434 dog, 24 of them to death. It’s a 2004 shooting of a 7 year-old lab/springer mix named Bubba that is headed to federal court.

Bubba’s owner, Virginia Viilo, sued the city, police Sgt. Kevin Eyre and Officer Montell Carter in 2005, claiming her constitutional rights were violated when Carter fired shots into her already-injured dog.

As is usually always the case, there are two significantly different stories of the incident that took place on that evening of Aug. 15, 2004. The first part of the story is not in question.

The officers showed up at Viilo’s home in the 2200 block of S. 20th St., looking for a wanted man who was supposed to have a pitbull. Viilo told the officer she didn’t know the man in question.

One of the officers was armed with a shotgun later saying it was “the best weapon for a dog is a shotgun, through my experience.”

Viilo, some friends and Bubba were in the backyard and when the officers approached the home, Bubba, who so often jumped the 3 1/2 foot fence that it was carpeted at the top to protect his tummy, jumped the fence and ran toward the officers barking. The officer fired twice, one shot shattering the dog’s leg who then crawled whimpering under a bush.

No one is disputing this, even Viilo doesn’t deny that this may have been a warranted action, noting the “difficult decisions that police officers face in the line of duty,” but contends the subsequent two shots were not necessary and were wrong.

This is where the story get contentious. The officers claim that Bubba came at them again, growling so they were forced to shoot him again and two more shots were fired, ending the dog’s life.

Viilo and guests tell a decidedly different story which is why this case is going to federal civil court.

Viilo was trying to coax Bubba out to take him to a vet but was denied by Eyre who has showed up on the scene after the first shots. Friends and neighbors we telling the officers that Bubba was a good dog. At least seven different witnesses dispute the officers’ story that Bubba was advancing on them and growling, they say that “Bubba was limping and whimpering as he emerged from the bushes and that he was just trying to get back to Viilo.”

Courts have held that unnecessarily killing a pet violates the owner’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure. Viilo’s attorneys said they are not aware of a civil rights lawsuit filed over a pet shooting ever going to trial in Milwaukee. The city’s attorney declined to comment.

The city has already appealed the case to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, arguing the officer had immunity when he shot Bubba. In a September opinion, the higher court denied the appeal and took a harsh view of the shooting.

“Although this is not, to say the least, a record that paints a sympathetic view of the defendants’ actions on the night Bubba was killed, the defendants nonetheless argue they are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law,” wrote Judge Richard Cudahy.

Viilo said she hoped her lawsuit over Bubba’s death would discourage other such shootings. U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert, the trial judge, ruled that other police shootings of dogs would not be allowed in as evidence.

Viilo’s suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages along with legal fees. The trial is expected to last up to a week. (JS Online)

I think that police need to think twice before drawing their weapon and shooting a dog. To some, “it’s just a dog” but to many, a dog is a beloved family member. Dogs are territorial, they run, they jump, they bark, but that doesn’t man they are all doing to attack and bite.

Too many stories where the dog was on its own property, in its yard, even in a house or actually tethered, owners begging officers not to shoot, to give them time to secure their dog, to no avail.  Police need to be held accountable for their actions.  If there is an option other than shooting, they should have to take it.

I know that alot of people whose dogs are shot are going to say that their dog would never have bitten and in many cases I bet that is the truth.  I have two Springer who would run behind me before confronting anyone but one of them will get barky and growling, out of nervousness, not viciousness.  Would be bite someone?  The worst damage he would inflict would be to jump and give someone a severe sliming.  Could his actions be misinterpreted?  Sure, if you didn’t notice he was quickly retreating and were just so trigger happy.

I am going to be waiting for the outcome of this suit.  I doubt that, even if Viilo win, there will be any changes, but it would be a nice change for there to be some kind of justice.  Somehow, some way, it seems that every cop related dog shooting is ‘justified’ by the department, but of course that would be the case.  When you police yourself, you’re not going to jump up and say that you did something wrong.

It’s far beyond time that someone from ‘outside’ look at one of these incidents and make a decision on whether it was really ‘justified.’

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