A December 19 ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit states that police officers do not violate constitutional rights by shooting suspects’ dogs during the execution of a search warrant.
The case stems from an April 17, 2013, incident in which police officers shot and killed two pit bulls inside a Battle Creek, Michigan, home while executing a drug-related search warrant.
Fox 31 reports that the dogs’ owners, Mark and Cheryl Brown, “filed a lawsuit against the Battle Creek Police Department and the city, claiming that killing the dogs amounted to the unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” A district court sided with the officers in the case, and it was appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
Mark Brown claims he told the officers that he had a key to the front door and his dogs were inside, yet the officers “broke down the door” anyway. Once in the home, “Officer Christof Klein testified that…a large, brown pit bull jumped off the couch, aggressively barked at the officers and lunged at him.” So he shot the animal once, causing it to retreat to the basement. When the officers went to clear the basement the dog was at the foot of the steps blocking their entrance and they killed it. A second pit bull–also in the basement–was killed as well.
The Sixth Circuit’s ruling addressed the officers’ decision to break through the door instead of using keys:
Several facts support the conclusion that the officers in this case acted reasonably in breaching the front door without devising a method of entry that would not damage the door. First, Vincent Jones, although detained when the raid occurred, was identified as dangerous, known to carry firearms while distributing drugs, and known to be accompanied by other gang members. Second, the officers had information that Jones was distributing drugs out of the residence and they did not want anybody inside the residence to destroy evidence of drug distribution. Third, as Defendants’ counsel stated during oral argument, the officers would not have used the keys Mark Brown offered to give them because the officers would not have had any idea whether those keys were the correct keys. Defendants’ counsel persuasively argued that Mark Brown could have given the officers the wrong set of keys, and the resulting delay could have given somebody in the house the opportunity to destroy the drugs or time to prepare to attack or shoot the officers as they entered the residence. See United States v. Banks, 540 U.S. 31, 40 (2003) (“[W]hen circumstances are exigent because a pusher may be near the point of putting his drugs beyond reach, it is imminent disposal . . . that governs when the police may reasonably enter”). Finally, the damage to the front door was “slight.”
They court also addressed the officers’ decision to shoot the pit bulls:
In this case, the district court found that the Resistance and General Firearms Policy defined dangerous animals and vicious dogs, and discussed when the use of a firearm may be drawn. The court stated that the resistance policy “is consistent with protecting the officers from hostile animals.” (R. 72 at 49.) The court held that the events that transpired in this case were not a direct result of the resistance policy, and on this ground, there is no “basis for municipal liability.” (Id.) We agree.
On the claim that the BCPD did not have a policy on how to treat dogs in the search of a house, “despite a recurring problem that amounts to deliberate indifference,” the court stated that it is “something that may well become a viable claim as we move forward, but . . . on the present record the one thing that’s clear is that there isn’t much of a policy, practice, not just in Battle Creek but throughout the country, on how to deal with this beyond the general statements of how officers are supposed to respond to resistance.” (Id. at 49.) The court then held that based on the “present record, even crediting everything that’s in the record, there’s no history, credible history at least, that leads to needless killing of animals in the course of searches in Battle Creek . . . and . . . under those circumstances the fairly stringent standards for municipal liability by inattention could [not] be met here.” (Id. at 49−50.) We find that Plaintiffs failed to provide evidence establishing deliberate indifference, in other words, that there were prior instances of unconstitutional conduct demonstrating that the City ignored a history of abuse and was clearly on notice that the training in this particular area was deficient and likely to cause injury.
Sixth Circuit Judge Eric Clay said, “A police officer’s use of deadly force against a dog while executing a search warrant to search a home for illegal drug activity is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when … the dog poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety.”
AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of “Bullets with AWR Hawkins,” a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.