The Sixth District Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids, Michigan has decided that officers within the Battle Creek Police Department, the police department itself and the City of Battle Creek have absolutely no liability for an April, 2013 shooting death of two dogs owned by Mark & Cheryl Brown. Police shot and killed the two dogs "on sight" without the dogs ever attacking or injuring officers. The Appeals Court provided the defendants with a default judgement, which completely rejects the legitimacy of any of the plaintiff's complaints. The decision could have implications for former dog owners seeking legal redress for pets killed by police officers.
Battle Creek PD, along with Battle Creek's "Emergency Response Team" (a SWAT-style paramilitary unit for the tiny mid-western town) raided the home of the Browns in order to serve a search warrant that was obtained after digging through the home's trash and finding what police referred to as "residue" of cocaine and "loose" marijuana (which is an incriminating way of saying that the police did not find cocaine or marijuana). The raid was a failure from inception: the police hoped to nab a specific individual, Vincent Jones, who police have publicly claimed as a gang member and an all-around ne'er-do-well. However, Mr Jones had already been taken into police custody by the time the raid occurred. When police arrived, they found Mark Brown at home - and immediately arrested him, although Mr Brown was not the target of the warrant. Police then proceeded to use a battering ram to smash through the front door of the Brown residence, disregarding the house key offered by Mr. Brown (the plaintiff's claim for $240 to replace the door and hinges was also dismissed by the court). Once inside, officers immediately killed both dogs belonging to Mr Brown (officers also disregarded a "Beware of Dogs" sign in the front yard); one dog was shot while cowering behind a furnace. There was no mention of any drugs being found as part of the search in either the court decision or any of the news coverage PuppycideDB has reviewed surrounding the decision.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. Although Federal lawsuits and appeals related to puppycide cases are rare, Brown v Battle Creek is not the first such case. Decisions in the 2nd Circuit (Glen Harris, individually, and PPA as guardian for K.H., a minor child v. John Michael O'Hare, Anthony Pia and City of Hartford), 4th Circuit (Ann Altman et al v. City of High Point North Carolina et al), 9th Circuit (Nicholas Criscuolo v. Grant County) and 10th Circuit (Garcia v Johnson et al) have all sided with plaintiffs bringing suit against police departments who have killed pets in a number of different circumstances.
Dog trainer Brian Kilcommons told the Huffington Post that the Appeals Court's decision is “beyond the scope of sanity.”
“In such a high-tension situation, expecting a dog not to bark is just plain stupid. The worst thing according to this precedent is that every dog barks when a stranger shows up.”
Jim Blocker, Chief of the Battle Creek Police Department and a former 12 year veteran of the SWAT-style ERT team that was involved in the shooting at issue in the lawsuit, praised the decision:
"It was a good ruling. It pointed out some things we have to improve upon, but supported our operating concept that officers must act within reason. Officers have milliseconds to make a decision and it is a judgment call and based on too many variables. Ensuring officer safety and preventing the destruction of evidence must be protected."
Blocker went on to say that officers kill fewer animals today (there is no evidence to confirm this claim), bizarrely stating that "The animals are typically among the innocent."