JUSTICE: Detroit Pays $60,000 After Cops Gun Down Dogs

Joe Trotter | @thetrottspot

Police acting on a narcotics search warrant burst into Nikita Smith’s home and executed three of her dogs, including one locked in a bathroom (WARNING: graphic images).  Now the city is paying out $60,000 to settle the civil rights case Smith filed against the city.

Detroit’s Puppy-Killing Problem

Detroit police officers have a nasty habit of committing “puppycide,” the term for indiscriminately killing dogs during drug raids. Unlike in other cities, where the number of dog shootings decreased, Detroit’s rate of dog executions increased steadily from year-to-year.

Officers involved in the raid on Smith’s home admitted to shooting over a hundred dogs over the course of their careers. According to Reason, Detroit cops gunned down at least 54 dogs in 2017; this more than twice as many as Chicago.

Just one day after announcing the settlement, a Detroit cop gunned down a 15-month-old puppy in front of a nine-year-old. The kid asked the officer for help after the dog got loose and ran down the street while on a walk. The cop then got out of the car and shot the dog in the face.

But the problem is far worse than the callous disregard for family pets. In at least one instance, an officer attempting to shoot a dog missed and a bullet came through the window of a family home where three children were present. When the homeowner complained, the police initially refused to investigate.

Financial Impact

Settlements like the one Smith received are becoming increasingly common in Detroit.

The city paid $225,00 to a couple after an officer gunned down three dogs enclosed by an 8-foot-tall fence in a drug raid. In 2015, the city paid $100,000 to a man after shooting a dog chained to a fence, and $8,000 to a local country singer who was playing with her dog in a field when it approached an officer and was brutally gunned down.

The City’s Argument

City lawyers argued that Fourth Amendment protections did not apply to Smith’s dogs because they were unlicensed. In a previous decision, a U.S. District Court agreed with the city, stating, “When a person owns a dog that is unlicensed, in the eyes of the law it is no different than owning any other type of illegal property.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the decision, ruling that the dogs were unreasonably “seized” by the state. In the ruling, the appeals court wrote, “Just as the police cannot destroy every unlicensed car or gun on the spot, they cannot kill every unlicensed dog on the spot.”

Expert Opinion

Police should only use a firearm to deal with aggressive dogs as a last resort; according to multiple experts, pepper spray is as effective, if not more, on dogs than it is on humans.

Firearms carry the risk of over-penetrating and injuring innocent bystanders. I previously covered an incident where a cop tried to shoot a dog, missed, and hit a 10-year-old child instead.

The officers raiding Smith’s home were out of control. Wantonly discharging firearms through closed doors is not only dangerous but also entirely inhumane. The wounded animal suffered needlessly, bleeding out due to poor shot-placement; the officers involved clearly had time to procure pepper spray while they had the animal contained.

Other law enforcement agencies have instituted mandatory training for dealing with dogs. If they want to avoid costly lawsuits and bad press, Detroit’s police department might consider instituting a similar program.

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