On June 18th, 2015, Clayton County Georgia police entered the back yard of Brittany Johnson and her husband without a warrant. They would later claim a neighbor had called them to say that the Johnson household was being used to sell drugs, and they were there to perform a "knock and talk". But there was no talking on the 18th, because Brittany and her husband were not home. But other members of the Johnson family were home.
Somehow, police encountered one of the family dogs: Diesel, who was attached to an outside line by a leash when the Johnson's left the house. Diesel was shot three times with a large caliber handgun by a still-unidentified female police officer who promptly fled the scene when the Johnsons returned home.
"I never spoke to her. I asked the Sergeant on scene (Sergeant Thomas) to give me her name, badge number and car number. He refused multiple times."
Brittany Johnson was threatened with arrest on the scene for "disorderly conduct".
Diesel was less than 1 year old.
The Johnson family's landlord, hearing tales of vicious drug dealers in his property who could be subdued only after righteous police gunfire, promptly evicted the young couple. Crashing on couches and staying in motels, the Johnsons are effectively homeless following this puppycide.
Puppycide Database Project research has found that police regularly and casually enter back yards and homes without a warrant or permission from the property owner, and that warrantless searches are a frequent precondition for the killing of pets by police. While courts across the country have carved our exceptions to the fourth amendment to the constitution for situations in which police are in "hot pursuit" of a felon, PuppycideDB has found such situations to be incredibly rare when invasions of private property lead to police opening fire on family dogs. Much more common are situations like the one that lead to the death of the Johnson family's dog Diesel: vague accusations of drug possession or dealing lead to police wandering around on property they have no business being on.
When police actually pursue a felon, our records indicate that searches commonly involve entire neighborhoods and last for many hours after the alleged felon has disappeared from the sight of police. The vision engrained in the American psyche from decades of movies and reality TV shows of police leaping over fences and across roof-tops, an arms-length from some evil thug, remains largely unsupported by our research.
The Clayton County Police Department is rapidly making a name for themselves as the stories of police officers opening fire on pets make national headlines. Last week, Clayton cop Walter Dennard shot a five month old puppy mere inches from his 12 year old owner after the boy opened the door of the family home and the young dog came bouncing out. According to one witness, the shooter began laughing as the dog bled out in the street:
"[Dennard] just took a step back and he just shot at the dog. And then he started laughing afterward."
Despite police reports that the teething menace 'lunged' at them (a goto verb used to justify police shooting of dogs and people alike), the killing was witnessed by a large number of neighbors - all of whom have openly and consistently denied Dennard's narrative.
"[Dennard] just shot the dog and stood there with no remorse, no regrets in front of her and her kids."
Internal affairs investigations have been opened both in the Dennard case and on behalf of the Johnson family - who, unlike the family victimized by William Dennard, have not had the benefit of press coverage or multiple on-scene witnesses. In an interview with Puppycide Database Project, Brittany Johnson fears that the lack of attention makes her family more vulnerable to retaliation from police from filing a complaint:
"The harassing came shortly after I filed with Internal Affairs. Clayton County Police would drive by my home and stop in front of my house. I would wave and they would speed off."
Attempts to intimidate those who file complaints or lawsuits against police officers, or who pose a political threat to police interests, are widely documented by groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch and are not unique to puppycide cases.
It was only after an argument that police released Diesel's body to the Johnsons, who are trying to raise funds to perform a necropsy - a vital first step in seeking legal redress against the police. Those who would like to support the Johnsons can do so by contributing to their GoFundMe page as well as signing their petition on Causes.Com. Brittany Johnson also manages a Facebook page - Justice for Diesel Johnson. Puppycide is a devastating event - emotionally and financially, particularly for a young couple who do not have the savings to deal with an unexpected tragedy.
Suspicions have been raised about the police justification for Diesel's killing on a number of fronts. Brittany Johnson believes that Diesel's injuries conflict with the police narrative - as does an examination of Diesel's leash and outdoor line, which according to police broke. Video below shows the line in proper working order, suggesting that Diesel could very well have been shot by police while he was restrained:
Note: the editing is a little wonky on this video; however it is our policy to not edit any film provided by police, witnesses or victims.
Meanwhile, the Clayton County Police Department has yet to issue even an informal apology to the Johnsons. It has been the experience of the Puppycide Database Project that such apologies are almost unheard of, and are issued solely as a means of mitigating public relations fallout - not because such apologies represent the bare minimum of basic human decency.