RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The Fourth Circuit on Wednesday sided with a Virginia woman whose leashed dog was shot and killed by a police officer, finding his actions were unreasonable because the dog did not pose a threat.
The case goes back to September 2017, when Officer Michael Roane with the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office joined other officers at the property of Tina Ray.
The officers were there to execute a warrant related to a domestic abuse charge, but Roane pulled his squad car onto Ray’s property into the play area of Jax, her 150-pound German Shepherd.
According to court documents, the officer acknowledged he was out of range of the dog, and that Ray was working to calm him by holding his lead. However, Roane “then took a step forward, positioning himself over Jax, and fired his weapon into the dog’s head,” Wednesday’s ruling states. The dog died from the wound.
Ray sued but a federal judge sided with Roane, ruling it was not unreasonable to shoot the dog under those circumstances.
However, the Fourth Circuit reversed Wednesday, with a unanimous three-judge panel finding that the lower court’s judgment was off base.
“The problem with Roane’s argument, and thus with the district court’s decision adopting it, is that it requires us to ignore certain factual allegations in Ray’s complaint,” Chief Justice Roger Gregory wrote in the 14-page opinion.
The Bill Clinton appointee pointed to evidence showing the officer knew the dog was at the end of his leash and had stopped backing up for safety, but still took the step forward to shoot the dog.
“Taking these factual allegations as true and drawing these reasonable inferences in Ray’s favor, Roane’s seizure of Jax was unreasonable because Jax no longer posed any threat to Roane,” Gregory wrote.
The officer argued even if a mistake was made he should be shielded by qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects government actors from claims over discretionary decisions, but Gregory said that is not appropriate in this case.
“A reasonable officer in Roane’s position would have known that his alleged conduct was unlawful at the time of the shooting in this case,” he wrote.
Gregory was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judges Barbara Keenan, a Barack Obama appointee, and Julius Richardson, appointed by President Donald Trump.
Carlene Johnson, an attorney with Dillwyn, Virginia-based Perry Law Firm who represents Ray, did not return a request for comment Wednesday. Neither did Dallas LePierre with the Atlanta-based NDH, who represents Roane.
Ray did not request a specific amount of damages in her lawsuit.