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Sixth Circuit Mulls Police Shooting of Dogs

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Dogs are routinely euthanized after some civil process, typically when a dog has been found to be a danger to people.

But in a Michigan case, police executed three dogs during a search for drugs. They said the animals bared their teeth and charged them.

The owners sued for civil rights violations, but a trial judge thew out their case. In arguments to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges searched for the truth.

Two Pit Bulls and a Rottweiler

In January 2016, Detroit police were searching for drugs at the home of Nikita Smith and Kevin Thomas. Officers found 21 grams of marijuana, but the case was ultimately dismissed.

In their civil case, the plaintiffs said one officer shot "Debo" as soon as police entered the home. Another officer shot the dog seven more times.

"Smoke" was trapped in a bathroom, but police testified he "opened the door by himself" and so they shot him, too. "Mama" got it as she ran up the stairs.

The trial judge said the dogs were unlicensed and "a danger to the public similar to an unregistered gun." She said the officers were also entitled to immunity when they shot the dogs.

Entitled to a Hearing

The plaintiffs' lawyer argued on appeal they were entitled to a hearing first under Michigan's Dog Law, which is supposed to prevent summary executions of unlicensed dogs. The appeals court has not ruled in the case.

In a separate case, however, the city recently paid $225,000 to settle a similar police shooting of three dogs during a marijuana raid. Those animals were behind an eight-foot tall fence.

According to reports, Detroit police have acted as a "dog death squad." Two officers alone have shot at least one hundred dogs.

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