Monday, March 18, 2013

"The facts of this case are undoubtedly tragic"

The case is tragic because police officers shot and killed the dog after they entered someone's home on a no-knock warrant. The case went to trial and the plaintiff lost on her Fourth Amendment seizure claim. The Court of Appeals affirms.

The case is Carroll v. County of Monroe, decided on March 12. With a no-knock warrant, the police barge inside the abode without warning, and they have to move fast so the occupant cannot fire back at them or destroy evidence. The police officer shot the dog in the head when it got too close to him, barking and growling. Prior to the search, the police did not discuss a plan for controlling the dog or neutralizing any threat it might pose, and the County did not train its officers for handing encounters like this.

While the unreasonable killing of a companion animal may constitute a seizure of personal property under the Fourth Amendment, that does not mean the plaintiff will always win the case. The jury ruled in the officers' favor, and the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Winter and Lynch) affirms, reasoning: 

A reasonable jury certainly could have found—based on the evidence presented—that no amount of planning or training would have changed the unfortunate outcome in this case. The plaintiff offered no evidence that any non-lethal means of controlling her dog would have allowed the officers to quickly escape the “fatal funnel” and effectively execute the no-knock warrant. In other words, the jury could have reasonably found that Deputy Carroll would still have needed to shoot the plaintiff’s dog even if the officers had developed a non-lethal plan to restrain the dog.
Plaintiff argued that the police could have used pepper spray, a taser or a catch pole, but plaintiff did not show that these non-lethal means would not have been effective or that it would have been unreasonable for the officers not to use them. One Deputy had never heard of using pepper to restrain a dog, and the department did not own a taser at the time. A catch pole would have delayed the search, allowing the occupants to destroy evidence or arm themselves. So, while the failure to plan adequately for the presence of dogs during a search may contribute to a Fourth Amendment violation in some circumstances, there is no such violation here.

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