700 dogs have been shot or shot at by police in Chicago in the past decade
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Lady, a black Labrador retriever, was wagging her tail when she ran up to a Chicago cop who shotgunned her as he executed a search warrant on a South Side apartment in 2009. Her death ended up costing the city of Chicago $333,000.
Rozay — a mixed-breed — died of a gunshot from a Chicago cop during a raid on the South Side in 2015. The city’s legal tab for Rozay’s death: $88,500.
The same year, Gucci King, a pit bull, was shot dead by another member of the Chicago Police Department during the search of a South Side home. His owners have filed an excessive-force lawsuit against the city.
Across the city, 700 dogs have been shot or shot at since 2008 by police officers who later said they feared for the safety of themselves or others. And even in cases in which the courts have found the dogs were wrongly killed and the city was ordered to pay damages to their owners, not one of those shootings has resulted in a recommendation of discipline against an officer, city records reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Animal-rights activists say too many dogs are shot by the police. They say that, with proper training, officers can learn how to approach a seemingly aggressive dog safely and not have to resort to deadly force.
Juries have been sending a similar message to City Hall, with hefty judgments like the award given Lady’s owners in the lawsuit they filed against the city.
Police officials point to recent changes in policy and training that they say have resulted in officers shooting fewer dogs — a 67 percent decrease in the past three years. Cops fired at 73 animals in 2014 — a number that had fallen to 24 last year, according to the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates officers’ use of deadly force, including cases in which dogs are killed.
Officer-involved shootings of people also are down in Chicago. Officers shot 42 people in 2014 and 25 last year, COPA records show. Those figures include fatal and nonfatal shootings.
The owners of dogs that have been killed by the police — during raids and in other situations — say more can be done to prevent such shootings.
“I can see them shooting a dog that is foaming at the mouth or charging them — a guard dog,” says Thomas Russell, whose family owned Lady. “But they took a 9-year-old family member from us, our pet. Most of the time, shooting a pet like ours is just wrong.”
James Anderson, the owner of Gucci King, echoes that sentiment.
“Gucci was our pet,” says Anderson, cradling his dog’s ashes in an urn bearing an image of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. “He wasn’t a guard dog.”
Anderson and his family say in their lawsuit that the officers who raided his home used excessive force in shooting his dog twice and handcuffing his teenage granddaughter and a friend.
The officers allegedly roughed up the girls and ransacked the home during a search that Victor Henderson, the family’s lawyer, says didn’t turn up what they were looking for — drugs.
“These grown men crossed a line,” Henderson says of the officers.
He says the man they were looking for — Anderson’s grandson — wasn’t there. The grandson, a convicted felon, was never charged in connection with the raid, court records show.
The same officers who searched Anderson’s home had killed four other dogs and wounded another one between 2014 and 2016, according to court records.
Torreya Hamilton is the lawyer who represented Rozay’s owners in a lawsuit over that dog’s death.
“It’s easier to get a jury to care about a dog that was shot than a person sometimes,” Hamilton says.
She sees a correlation between officers killing dogs and violating people’s rights.
“They tend to hurt people and animals alike,” Hamilton says. “If they are going to shoot a dog, they are also roughing people up.”
Before 2011, Chicago cops who killed dogs were required to fill out a card saying that a firearm was used to kill an animal. Now, the police department requires officers to fill out a more complete report and also to undergo a drug test and a Breathalyzer — the same procedure followed for shooting a person.
The department also has provided new training for officers on how to deal with animals they perceive as being hostile. Videos featuring officers in Chicago learning how to approach dogs are now being used in training sessions across the country.
“We have put considerable investment in deescalation and firearms training,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says. “We believe it is having an impact.”
Last year, the department launched a new use-of-force policy. It spells out that officers cannot kill an animal unless they fear for their lives or the lives of others.
That policy came after a scathing report from the Justice Department, which investigated Chicago Police Department practices after a video of an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a knife-wielding teenager, was ordered released in 2015. The video prompted a national outcry, and the officer, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder.
“During our review of officer-involved shootings,” the Justice Department said in the report last year, “we saw shootings at dogs that appeared to be unnecessary, retaliatory or reckless. We also observed that there were many complaints from community members that officers unnecessarily or recklessly killed their dogs and that, like other civilian complaints, these complaints were not adequately investigated.”
As a result of the new policy on use of force, COPA now investigates every dog shooting, according to Mia Sissac, a spokeswoman for the office, who says several investigations are currently underway.
The Independent Police Review Authority, COPA’s predecessor, rarely, if ever, investigated officers’ shootings of dogs, Sissac says.
Stacey Coleman, executive director of the National Canine Research Council, was involved in producing the training video featuring Chicago cops and dogs. She says the police in Chicago take cops’ interactions with dogs more seriously than in other cities.
“But we have to realize there are occasions when it is the only solution,” Coleman says.
One officer — who spoke to the Sun-Times on the condition that he not be named — says he has shot about 20 dogs over his two-decade career.
He says that, early in his career, shooting a pit bull or other typical guard dog was a matter of course when search warrants were served. He says the police are shooting fewer dogs now because officers are serving fewer search warrants and also because of increased scrutiny over such shootings.
“In the past, you saw a dog, you shot it. That dog was there to guard against rival dope dealers and the police,” the officer says. Referring to the Breathalyzer test that’s now required, he says, “Now, there is a thought process. Like: ‘Did I have a drink the night before? Will I have to blow?’ ”
A lawyer for the officers being sued for killing Anderson’s dog Gucci King has called that shooting “unavoidable.”
“The dog had its teeth bared and was lunging at Sgt. [Brian] Schnier,” who was involved in the search, said the lawyer, Larry Kowalczyk.
Another officer, Joseph Papke, killed Gucci King because, although the lawsuit says the dog didn’t attack the officer, he felt that he and the sergeant were “in immediate danger.”
“Moreover, occupants in the residence could have used the distraction of Gucci King lunging at Sgt. Schnier to attack the officers or to dispose of contraband,” according to Kowalczyk.
Both Schnier and Papke have owned dogs, and Papke said in a deposition that putting down his beagle was one of the hardest decisions in his life.
After Papke shot Gucci King with his Glock handgun, Anderson’s granddaughter asked why the officer killed him, and one of the officers mocked her, according to the family’s lawsuit, which says the officer jokingly called to the dead dog, saying, “Come here, boy.”
According to court papers filed in the case, Papke had killed another dog in January 2015. Schnier shot and killed dogs in February 2015 and August 2016. Durand Lee, another member of the team, wounded a dog in April 2014 and killed a dog in July 2015, according to the records.
More than two years after Gucci King was shot, Anderson says, “I’m having nightmares. I can’t sleep. This tore a hole out of my family.”