Advocates decry lack of policy, records on police shootings of dogs

Jennifer LeMay, the owner of the two Staffordshire bull terriers shot Saturday night by a Minneapolis police officer, may soon file a lawsuit over the incident.

LeMay’s counsel, civil rights attorney Mike Padden, said LeMay’s home surveillance video contradicts the public police report that claims the two dogs, Ciroc and Rocco, charged at the officer.

“They’re caregivers," Padden said. "Two of her children have issues with seizures and they’re there to help control that. They’ve got a problem here. A big problem."

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau has offered to help cover Ciroc and Rocco’s vet bills, but it's too little too late according to LeMay and her attorney.

“My client tried to get them to help with the vet bills in the beginning and they basically told her in no uncertain terms to take a hike,” Padden said. "She had to pay close to $4,000--upfront--for the dogs to even be looked at.”

The attorney confirms both Ciroc and Rocco serve as legitimate service dogs to the family and says the language in the police report is of major concern because filing a false police report is a crime in itself.

Following the claim the dogs charged at the officer, the report goes on to add that the officer “dispatched the two dogs.”

“That sounds more like you sent a package by UPS,” said James Crosby, a retired Jacksonville, Fl. officer who now serves as a national canine aggression expert. “I was on the street for 22 and a half years, I never shot at or shot a dog."

Crosby says the report’s vague, practically covert language further proves major nationwide enforcement issues.

“Reporting and lack of policies are two of the big hurdles we’ve got to overcome,” he said.

Representatives with the Animal Welfare Institute say the U.S. Department of Justice estimates police shoot more than 10,000 dogs every year.

“That number could be better or it could be much, much worse,” Crosby said. "You would think they’d have to report that on a state or federal level, but some departments don’t even document the fact that they shot a dog.”

Jeff Jindra, a retired police sergeant who used to train prospective Minneapolis officers confirms gunfire should always be a last resort when encountering dogs during service calls.

“Seems like on the Northside you have pitbulls around small children," Jindra said. "That bullet has to go somewhere."

While the retired sergeant says he doesn’t want to draw conclusions until the body camera video footage is released, he confirms every officer is trained to know their options.

“Stand your ground, try to make yourself as big as you can, say ‘No! Down! Back!’ to them, he said. "Sometimes you can get them to back them off just with that."

And as for why no formal use of force policy exists toward animals in Minneapolis? Jindra has a plausible theory.

“Most situations are rapidly evolving and there’s no one set of right or wrong rules,” he said.

Jindra, a dog lover himself, says an owners’ best line of defense is to keep their pooches inside or on a leash anytime an alarm is tripped, as was the case at Jennifer LeMay’s home that night.

While it’s unclear if her case will even make it to litigation, Padden expects that LeMay’s surveillance video marks the beginning of major changes to how police handle and document encounters with family dogs.

“If in fact the conclusion is reached that the report was filed falsely, we expect a criminal prosecution--not just internal discipline,” Padden said.

At last check LeMay’s GoFundMe page for Ciroc and Rocco’s medical bills raised nearly $30,000.

Padden says he will ensure the money is properly disseminated for vet bills and other fees associated with this “illegal pet shooting,” as he calls it.

James Crosby, meanwhile, is working with the Sheriff’s Association and the U.S. Department of Justice to develop training he hopes will become the national standard. Crosby tells FOX 9 he’d like to make Minneapolis one of his pilot stops.

More about Crosby’s veterinary forensics work can be found here.