SACRAMENTO (CN) - A married couple may pursue claims that a Vallejo police officer shot their dog to death on a routine police visit to their house, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Erika Gregory and Loren Mollner filed a claim with the Vallejo Police Department after learning that Gregory's bank account had been subjected to fraud. When she called to check on the status of her claim, she was told that no investigator had been assigned to her case, according to the judgment's synopsis.
The investigations department told dispatchers that Gregory wanted to speak to an officer to provide suspect information on the open case.
Officer Chase Calhoun responded to Gregory and Mollner's residence, which was surrounded by a low white fence with a closed but unlocked gate. The couple owned three dogs at the time: Belle, an 11-year-old Labrador-Catahoula-mix weighing 70 lbs.; Flicka, a 14-year-old blind and deaf border collie-mix; and Holly, a Labrador puppy.
According to Calhoun, he shook the gate before opening it, heard no response, and entered the yard. As he walked toward the front door, he saw Belle and Flicka moving toward him and "realized that [he] was going to be attacked by not one, but two dogs," according to U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller's order.
Calhoun drew his gun and fired two rounds, killing Belle. He left the yard, closed the gate, and requested that an Animal Control Unit be sent.
Hearing the gunshots, Gregory came out of the house and saw her dog "lying in a pool of blood."
Calhoun, who claims that he acted in self-defense, was the only witness to the shooting.
Mueller found a genuine dispute as to whether Calhoun's shooting the dog was reasonable.
Gregory disagreed with Calhoun's claim that the dogs were barking and snarling, and that Belle's teeth were showing and the hair on the back of her neck was raised.
Gregory said her dogs were not aggressive. She offered the declaration of their tenant at the time, Elizabeth Coudright, who said that she felt no threat by the friendly dogs on the first day she met them by herself and that she interacted with Belle every day. Coudright said her friends entered the property without any issues, as well.
"On summary judgment, the court cannot determine as a matter of law that a reasonable jury would necessarily find Officer Calhoun perceived an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury at the time he shot Belle. Officer Calhoun is the only eyewitness. The court 'may not simply accept what may be a self-serving account by [Officer Calhoun]' and based on that testimony find that there is no genuine dispute of material fact," Mueller wrote.
Because Calhoun was carrying both a Taser and pepper spray, a jury could find that he acted unreasonably in shooting the dog when less intrusive measures were available, Mueller found.
Therefore, Calhoun and the police department are not entitled to judgment on Gregory and Mollner's claims for Fourth Amendment violations, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Bane Act violations.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.