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Dog Shooting Case Will Move to Trial, DC Circuit Rules

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An elderly D.C. woman will finally be able to have her case heard in court after the D.C. Circuit Court determined that a reasonable jury could have determined that officers were unreasonable in shooting the plaintiff's dog while executing a search warrant for drugs.

This is the second qualified immunity case recently reviewed by a circuit that also involved dogs within the facts.

The Robinsons and "Wrinkles"

In 2010, DC police began executing a search warrant on the Robinson residence based on the belief that Mrs. Robinson's grandson had drugs in the home. He'd been arrested earlier with possession of marijuana.

When the police arrived, Mrs. Robinson and her dog, named Wrinkles, opened the door to nine police officers. Mrs. Robinson communicated to the officers that she would lock Wrinkles, a thirteen-year old pit-bull/German Shepherd mix, in the bathroom. Even though court documents state that the officers told Mrs. Robinson that the dog would be left alone, somehow the bathroom door was opened and Wrinkles was shot several times before she was neutralized at the foot of the stairs.

"So Undermined as to Be Incredible"

Exactly what happened once the door was opened was, of course, in heavy dispute. Mrs. Robinson's story was different than that of the officers and she pushed the story that Wrinkles would have only bitten officer Sarah Pezzat if she was shot at first. Pezzat claimed that Wrinkles bit down on her boot which caused her to shoot at Wrinkles. Robinson sued and Pezzat defended on qualified immunity.

The trial court heard Robinson's evidence pretrial and determined that Mrs. Robinson's account of the facts just did not gel with officer accounts of what had happened. But the circuit court determined that the lower court had done the job of a jury and that there was error to grant summary judgment.

Clearly, material issues of fact were up in the air for a reasonable jury to digest. The district court, for its part, unfortunately rested its argument on Johnson v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, stating that testimony may lawfully be placed to the side if it was 'so undermined as to be incredible'. But the circuit disagreed that Mrs. Robinson had been so impeached to have met that "incredible" prong. As a result, the case will proceed to trial in order to determine the facts of what actually happened that night.

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