A woman whose two dogs were shot by police officers during the execution of a search warrant on her home can sue the North Las Vegas Police Department and six officers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided last week.
In a 2-1 vote the justices ruled that District Judge Larry Hicks was wrong to dismiss Louisa Thurston's civil rights lawsuit, 8NewsNow reports.
The judges said in their decision that there were “genuine issues of material fact as to whether the police officers acted reasonably” in shooting Blue and Bruno, a 70-pound pit bull and 140-pound Mastiff. Thurston’s three small dogs were not harmed.
The incident occurred Feb. 8, 2008, when SWAT officers executed a search warrant on Thurston's husband Michael Martin, who was wanted on armed robbery charges.
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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that police waited 20 minutes after entering the home before opening fire -- enough time to summon animal control.
The court said it is reasonable to infer that “the officers had enough time to observe the dogs’ behavior and summon animal control officers” before they were attacked by the dogs. It said there is a “genuine issue of fact as to whether the dogs attacked” the police.
“I want these cops held accountable,” said Thurston on Friday night. “It is not about money; it was about what they did to my babies. Bruno (the mastiff) was awesome. My dogs did not growl. They did not bark. I don’t want this to happen to other people who love their animals.”
She said Bruno was shot eight times and the dead dogs were hauled away in bloody clear plastic bags that she and her 16-year-old daughter saw. Thurston sobbed in talking about their deaths, reports the Las Vegas Review Journal.
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“Why did they do it?” she asked. “None of them were bitten. They saw them wiggling their tails when they arrived. I begged them not to hurt my dogs.”
North Las Vegas Police Department spokeswoman Chrissie Conn said she could not comment on continuing litigation nor on whether the Department will appeal the 9th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision states that North Las Vegas Police Department policy “dictates attendance, if not participation, of an animal control officer whenever police know there are dogs present inside a home.”
“The absence of an animal control officer — in contravention of general policy and despite time to summon one after entry — further raises a genuine issue of fact as to the reasonableness of the officers’ actions,” the 9th Circuit Court opined.
The circuit judges also ruled that Thurston cannot sue North Las Vegas city government itself. They said there was no evidence that the SWAT team killed the dogs “pursuant to a formal government policy.”
Her lawsuit against the Police Department and individual officers, however, can proceed. Thurston also will be compensated for the cost of appealing the lower court decision.
Justice Paul Watford dissented that, although police knew there were “large, potentially aggressive dogs on the property,” these dogs appeared to be confined in the backyard. The dogs, however, then “unexpectedly flung the door open with their noses.”
Watford said officers feared for their safety when the dogs “growled, bared their teeth and charged at them inside the house.”
In appeals documents, attorneys for the six police officers said they needed to make a “split-second decision.” Dogs were able to enter and leave the house by pushing on a piece of plywood, according to documents.
According to Ed Vogel of the Las Vegas Review-Journal Capital Bureau, State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, announced he will introduce a bill next year requiring police to receive training in dog behavior so to avoid situations where they feel they have no choice but to shoot dogs.