The fatal shooting of a dog by law enforcement officers in Michigan late last year was premeditated, according to the attorney of the pet’s owner.
On November 22, officers shot and killed Brittany Preston’s 1-year-old mixed breed Labrador named Lexie in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
On July 15, Preston’s attorney, Chris Olson, filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police officers David Jacquemain and Jeremy Moskwa, and animal control officer Tom Massey. The lawsuit alleges that the killing of Lexie was premeditated and was a violation of Preston’s Fourth Amendment rights.
"They had a premeditated intent to kill the dog and that is exactly what they did," Olson told The Huffington Post.
Olson says Preston’s grandfather, who reportedly suffers from dementia, had left Lexie outside. Police were called to the house on a complaint of excessive barking by the dog.
"Before even getting out of the car, an officer is heard saying, 'The only thing I'm gonna do is shoot it, anyway. I do not like dogs,'" Olson said of the recordings taken from a dashboard camera of the responding officers’ cruiser.
Dash-camera audio reveals the officers discussing ways to subdue the dog. At one point, one officer is heard saying, "I don't do snares, I don't do dogs ... I'll shoot the f--king thing."
The officers then confront Preston’s grandfather, who initially says he does not know who is responsible for the dog.
"Hey, here is what I'm gonna tell you, if this isn't your dog, then you don't care if I shoot it because I'm about to," an officer tells Preston's grandfather, according to the recorded audio.
"I'm very close to killing this dog, do you understand what I'm telling you right now? I will kill this dog. So if this is your damn dog, bring it in the house."
After some confusion, Preston’s grandfather eventually says he thinks the dog belongs to his granddaughter. At this point, he agrees to bring the animal inside the house.
But before he could allow Lexie inside, police officers shot at her four times, with three bullets hitting her, according to police.
"What the f--k, you shooting it right in front of me," Preston’s grandfather can be heard saying. The officer replies, "It attacked us, sir.”
Preston's grandfather replies, "I don't think so. You guys ought to go on TV."
Not long after, Lexie, still alive but crying out in pain, is shot a fourth time by one of the officers.
The officers are later heard discussing what to do with a still-breathing Lexie as an animal control officer arrives on the scene, the lawsuit alleges.
"Defendant police officers asked defendant Massey if he could 'choke it out,'" according to the lawsuit. "Another police officer suggested using a shovel to kill Lexie. Defendant Massey remarked that doing so would not be a good idea because, 'You know this s--t is going to be all over Facebook in about an hour,' to which a police officer responded, 'yeah, unfortunately.'"
Massey eventually uses a catch-pole to walk a wounded Lexie to the animal control truck.
The lawsuit alleges that a licensed veterinarian who performed a gross necropsy on Lexie on Nov. 29 found a total of 15 bullet holes were found in the dog, contradicting the number of times police say they hit Lexie, Olson said.
"You do the math," Olson said. "Evidently, based on the number of bullet holes, they shot Lexie several more times once she was taken away."
St. Clair Shores city attorney Robert Ihrie did not address particular aspects of the lawsuit in a statement to the media, but he did say that he thought the suit is "filled with innuendo, speculation and half-truths."
"We do not intend to try this case in the news media,” he added. “We will allow the court process to work and we trust that, in the end, the city will be vindicated."
The officers involved have already been disciplined, according to Candgnews.com. Massey was reportedly suspended for a month without pay, while one officer was counseled and another had a letter of discipline attached to his official file.
Olson criticized the city’s response to the incident, saying his heartbroken client is demands “fair and reasonable” compensation for the loss of her pet
The lawsuit calls for a jury trial, a date for which has not been set.
One analysis of dog shootings across the US didn't find an overall increase in the number of incidents but did posit that awareness of such events is on the rise, facilitated especially by social media.
Jim Osorio, a former police officer now part of the National Humane Law Enforcement Academy, told PetsAdviser.com that officers across the US shoot thousands of dogs per year.
Law enforcement officers, though, are rarely provided training in how to handle dogs perceived as aggressive. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society offer such trainings for officers, yet few departments have participated in the free sessions, the organizations told PetsAdviser.com.
This is opposed to what is provided to postal workers, who are offered an annual training course on “how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace,” according to journalist Radley Balko, who has frequently reported on the excessive use of force by police departments across the US.