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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cops Who Shot Dog in Home Search Clear Suit

MANHATTAN (CN) - The 2nd Circuit cleared police officers for fatally shooting a dog in the head while executing a no-knock search warrant in upstate New York.

On Oct. 11, 2006, members of the Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team broke through Sherry Carroll's front door with a battering ram without announcing their presence. The federal appeals court noted that from the outset that "the facts of this case are undoubtedly tragic."

Deputy James Carroll was the first to enter the home and immediately encountered "a dog growling, barking, and quickly and aggressively approaching him," according to the decision.

"Once the dog had advanced to within a foot of him," Carroll fired one fatal shot at the family dog.

Though the team knew before executing the warrant that a dog would be present, they failed to "discuss a plan for controlling the dog or formulate a strategy to neutralize any threat the dog might pose by non-lethal means," the ruling states.

Carroll, who had two children under the age of 18 at the time of the intrusion, filed a federal complaint against Monroe County, its sheriff's department, Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn and Deputy Sheriff James Caroll.

A federal jury in Rochester concluded after a two-day trial, however, that the shooting of the dog was not an unconstitutional seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit refused to disturb the verdict Tuesday.

"Although the death of her dog was regrettable, we cannot conclude that the plaintiff has met this heavy burden," the unsigned decision states.

No-knock warrants are issued in cases where "there is reason to believe that the occupants of the residence will, if the officers announce themselves prior to entry, pose a significant threat to officer safety or attempt to destroy evidence," according the opinion.

Here, the officers testified that trying to secure an aggressive dog could jeopardize themselves and the evidence, causing an insurmountable "delay in securing the entryway," which they call the "fatal funnel," the court noted.

Carroll failed to show that the officers improperly discounted pepper spray, a taser or a catch pole as a means to secure her pet, according to the ruling.

She "offered no evidence that these non-lethal means would have been effective or that it would have been unreasonable for the officers to decide not to use them," the ruling states.

Carroll testified that he did not know of an instance of "pepper spray effectively controlling an aggressive dog" and that the department "did not own tasers at the time," the judges wrote.

Futhermore, "a jury could reasonably conclude that using a catch pole in the middle of the entryway would compromise officer safety and unreasonably delay the search."

Despite siding with the county, the judges ended with a cautionary note.

"We do not mean to endorse the defendants' apparent position that the failure to plan for the known presence of a dog is always acceptable when the police are executing a no-knock warrant," merely that "the jury was not unreasonable to conclude that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of proof," the ruling states.There may well be instances where the killing of a pet in such circumstances does meet the burden of proof that a seizure is unconstitutional, the judges said, adding that they "urge the defendants to consider whether more comprehensive training and planning would better serve the public, as well as its officers, in the future."

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