Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dog Off Leash Killed by DC Police Office on Christmas Eve

The following story was reported by NBC on December 26, 2007.
Click here for story on-line

WASHINGTON -- A D.C. man is calling for an investigation after his dog was fatally shot by a police officer on Christmas Eve. Michel Morauw said he was walking Scooby, a 2 1/2-year-old boxer, in a small park near 24th and N streets Northwest just after 11 p.m. on Monday. According to the police department's incident report, an officer said he was on patrol and entered the park "when an unleashed dog attacked him." The report said the officer fired his weapon and struck the dog. Morauw said he is still in shock over what happened. He acknowledged the dog was not wearing a leash at the time, but he said the boxer posed no threat. Morauw said Scooby was eight to 10 yards away from the officer. The dog was frozen in fear, Morauw said. Morauw, general manager of the Park Hyatt Washington Hotel, described himself as very supportive of the police, but he said he can't understand how this happened. "It's a family dog. We have three kids. It was Christmas night. There was no reason," Morauw said.

The following story was reported 12/26 by USA9 (click here for story on-line)

DC Police Shoot Family's Pet Right In Front Of Them

WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Michel Morauw took the family's two year old boxer Scooby for a walk in a park near 24th and N Street NW after Christmas Eve dinner. He was off the leash when he encountered Officer Michael Handy of the Second District. "All of a sudden I heard someone scream, hold your dog, and by the time I got around the gate, he was aiming at the dog." Tess Morauw was walking toward to park to join her husband and Scooby and heard the shot. "I called Scooby and he came running. My husband is screaming, he's shot, he's shot, and then I see the trail of blood leading back to the park,"she said. As Scooby lie dying on the sidewalk surrounded by his owners...they called their three daughters to come say goodbye. "Our youngest is in a wheelchair and she couldn't come, but one daughter made it in time." The Morauw's account differs from that of officer [X]... a 20 year veteran of the police department...who was dispatched to the park to handle a call. "He felt the dog was going to attack him so he discharged his service weapon," Second District Supervisor Captain Willie Smith said. "We're sorry the dog was shot, but if it had been on a leash this wouldn't have happened."
DC law requires animals to be on leashes while on public property. They can run off leash in official dog parks. The park at 24th and N is not one of them. Owners who violate the leash law can be fined 25 dollars for a first offense. Scooby's family is determined to make sure police release a full accounting on the night their dog died. "It doesn't matter what day it happens, but it's particularly difficult on Christmas Eve with our three daughters at home," Morauw said. "There needs to be a full and genuine investigation. I want to see that report."

Blogger's notes:

(1) The officer was not injured during the incident. In fact, what we heard, the dog never touched the officer.

(2) From reliable sources who knew Scooby, we learned that Scooby was an extremely playful, gentle dog. Floppy and bouncy were the two words used to describe him. He was very much still a puppy at two years old, many who knew him said, but he was not a puppy.

(3) The area where Scooby was shot was the property of a middle school (Francis Middle School) with a condominium close nearby. We visted the scene at 11:00 p.m. and it is well lighted. The area was well known by police to be used as a de facto dog park. In fact, we learned from one person that officers from the nearby SOD used the area themselves behind the school (when school was not in session) to run their dogs themselves. But it was not a city sanctioned dog park because the city has very few of them, an issue that is still under consideration elsewhere.

(4) We also learned that at the time of the incident, Mr. Morauw was picking up after Scooby when Scooby heard the police officer yelling and then broke loose from him and ran around some trees toward the officer who had just gotten out of his cruiser. Mr. Morauw ran to Scooby, who by then was standing still a number of feet away from the officer. He yelled to the officer that Scooby was a good dog and wouldn't do anything. The officer ignored Mr. Morauw's screams and even as Mr. Morauw was running to get Scooby, before he could get Scooby the officer fired one shot and hit Scooby. Scooby cried out in pain and immediately ran down the street toward his home, about 100 feet away, and died.

(5) It is believed that the incident may have been captured on the security cameras of nearby buildings. (Police cruisers do not have video systems, we have learned.)

(6) We have also learned that altogether officers carry "nightsticks" (batons) and pepper spray, they do not carry tazers and may not consider the former two to be effective against certain dog attacks.

Blogger would also like to note the following.

In August 2005, a gentle Weimaraner named Peach was shot to death by a police officer in the dog's own yard when the police officer was responding to a false burglar alarm call. After that incident, Blogger wrote to Mayor Williams and City Councilman Jack Evans (in whose District both these incidents occurred) pleading with the city to develop a training program for police officers on how to handle dog situations. Details on how to start the program were included in the letter, based on a conversation Blogger had with the ASPCA in NY. The letter reported the results of an informal poll of several dozen police officers in the District that Blogger had just recently undertaken in which police officers said they received no training. Eventually, Blogger received a response from someone in the police department thanking him for his ideas, assuring him that there was a program developed in conjunction with the Washington Humane Society, but inviting him to call with further ideas. The following year, in September 2006, a dog named Princess was shot to death in a very busy Dupont Circle (by a Park Police offcier) under circumstances similar to Scooby's death.


(7) Putting aside the training that police officers do or do not receive regarding handling animals, all police officers are required to follow the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on The Use of Force. In this case, the officer had available his knee, his baton, his pepper spray, his tazer gun to use before the lethal weapon. (We have learned that DC police do not carry tazer guns.)

(8) According To the American Humane, 90 percent of vicious dog encounters can be defused by proper training. If 90 percent of vicious dog encounters can be defused, 100 percent of non-vicious dog encounters can be. SCOOBY WAS NOT A VICIOUS DOG. HE WAS A TWO-YEAR OLD PLAYFUL DOG, STILL VERY MUCH A PUPPY ACCORDING TO THOSE WHO KNEW HIM. PLAYFUL DOGS DO NOT TURN VICIOUS EVEN WHEN PROVOKED.

How many times have we read about similar instances aorund the country where officers have shot innocent, gentle dogs that the dogs were attacking them when there is no evidence of an attack or even a touching? (Remember Patton in 2003 in Tennessee?) Why wasn't this officer trained how to recognize aggressive behavior in dogs and how to defuse aggressive behavior? What didn't the officer use his baton, pepper spray, or tazer before he used his gun? Was he properly trained in the DOJ's MOU on The Use of Force (against people or animals)? This was a 20-year veteran of the police force who shot Scooby, and not some rookie police officer.

It seems that as long as police officers do not receive appropriate training on how to handle dogs, the fine for having your dog off a leash is no longer $25, but could be your dog's life. Let's hope that due process, not to mention common sense, did not die on Christmas eve along with poor Scooby. While we can rightly say that this sad incident would not have happened had Scooby been on a leash, that would be equivalent to saying that police officers have the right to kill all dogs off a leash or that police officers can use lethal force against someone who approaches them when the officers are writing a parking ticket. (No police officer I've met here would say that.) The truth is, this also would not have happened if the officer had been trained properly on the handling of dogs and the DOJ MOU on The Use of Force. The training is first and foremost for an officer's protection and then the public's, including their dogs. The officer involved in this shooting has as much a right to our sympathy as Scooby does. No one would not believe him if he said he thought he was about to be attacked by a vicious dog. But based on the facts that we have garnered, then officer might not have recognized that Scooby was not vicious and might not have known what to do if he had been.


Blogger invites your attention to a comment beneath this posting from someone obviously knowledgeable about these matters in general, and our comment after that.


David said...

Comments on your notes:

(2) A dog is not a puppy at 2 years old. A 2 year old boxer is not a small animal.
(3) An officer can defend him/herself anywhere...even near a school or condo.
(4) Scooby was off his leash...he didn't break away from Mr. Morauw. Mr. Morauw has admitted that Scooby wasn't on a leash.
(5) MPD cruisers do not have video cameras.
(7) MPD officers do not carry tazers. And who would try to defend themselves from a possibly attacking animal with their knee?!?!
(8) At night with an unknown animal running at you, how much time would you take to determine if it's a vicous dog or a playful one? And like I said....a 2 year old boxer is not a puppy.

If you don't like the laws requiring that dogs be kept on a leash, write letters to the people who make the laws.....don't complain about the officers who merely enforce the law.

As for the officer who shot the dog, I find it hard to believe that
an officer would simply pull his gun out, shoot a dog that was just
sitting there and wasn't being aggressive at all and face the very
high probability of losing his job for no reason whatsoever. If it
turns out that unlikely scenario is what happened, then yes.....the
officer certainly should be disciplined. In the meantime, rushing to judgment and blaming the officer for what happened with incomplete information is irresponsible and not a good way to facilitate ideas and communications on this list serve. Maybe the dog did lunge at the officer and the owner couldn't see it from his angle. Maybe the dog just wanted to play, but the officer couldn't tell the difference and protected himself as he had every right to do. Don't
rush to judgment. If the officer is found to be justified in this
incident, will the people who chastized the officer be as quick to chastize the owner for having his dog off the leash?

And the best way to avoid issues like that from ever happeneing in
the first place is to follow the laws and keep your dogs on a leash
where it's required.

Blogger said...

Thank you, "David," for the above comment. That is precisely the kind of factual comment we had hoped to invite. While we might disagree with some of your own conclusions, we appreciate the facts and the differences of opinions. It is clear that you are knowledgeable about these matters (although maybe not necessarily the present case, but these matters in general).

We agree 100 percent that a dog over two is no longer technically a "puppy" and we will change our wording. (A dog is still considered a "puppy" --- growing and learning --- until two, that is a fact.) We did not know Scooby, but the half dozen people with whom we spoke who knew him from the, yes, "de facto" dog park next to a school and a condo (facts) all described him as still very much a puppy, i.e., bouncy, floppy, etc. This is a fact. And what is also a fact is that some of us have never seen a dog can go from exhibiting only puppy-like behavior to vicious behavior, even when provoked.

As for the "off the leash" matter, you are also 100 percent right, if Scooby had been on a leash this would not have happened. (But if Mrs. Bhutto in Pakistan had taken all precautions she was strongly advised to take, she would not have been killed either.) But the issue that needs to be thought about is what was the appropriate use of force to use in this situation given the threat, real or perceived. None of us has anything to do the incident and --- thank God --- with whatever internal review the Firearm Investigation Team will come up with, but what happened on that night (or in any other situation) does very much get the issue of the kind of training the officers get. While we would certainly believe the officer if he said he perceived or thought that he was about to be attacked by a vicious dog, this raises the obvious questions of why wasn't he trained to understand the almost fool-proof signs of a non-vicious dog, and why wasn't he trained in techniques on how to defuse an attack by a vicious dog (studies have shown that most of them can be defused). Then, after that, there is the question of why he didn't go for his baton or pepper spray or even his knee instead of his lethal weapon when those other non-lethal means were available and procedure requires him to use an appropriate level of force to counter a threat.

Again, these questions are not for Monday-morning-quarterbacking the event of December 24th, but to figure out where the gaps are any officer's screening or training, training that is needed first for the officers own protection, then the public's (and their dogs).

Also regarding "off the leash" matter, recall the situation on Foxhall road two years ago where the dog was off the leash in her own yard but was still shot. I cannot imagine that any police officer would ever want to or would be expected to handle a threat any differently if he or she were on private property versus public property. Officers need to be trained to recognize and then handle threats to them wherever they occur and however those threats originated. Fortunately, breakdowns here in DC are few and far between because of the high caliber of police officers. And, fortunately again, our own experience has been that the Metropolitan Police Department wants to learn from mistakes or incidents and improve from there. (Many people have no idea at all how good the police force here is.) It is in that spirit that we have chosen to get involved regardless of what others think about what we write. A gentle dog was killed on Christmas eve. The police officer did not know how gentle he was or what kind of real risk the dog posed. We would be irresponsible citizens if we did not speak out about our concerns and to help make sure that we help to make sure that that does not happen again, for an officer's sake first and then for the public's after that. And it would be just as irresponsible of the MPD to just dismiss this as a dog-off-leash shooting. Fortunately, we know that they do not look at it that way, from the top down to the officers on the beat. And that should be encouraging to all of us in the future.

David said...

An officer has the right to defend himself if he has reason to believe he is in danger. Just because the dog was described as "floppy" and "playful" does not mean that he didn't bark or run at or lunge towards the officer....which can certainly be perceived as an aggressive move that could make the officer believe that he had to defend himself.

Like I said before....a knee is absolutely not an option for defense against an attacking dog. The batton might have been an option, but that takes more time to deploy (MPD uses collapsible metal battons), can be just as lethal, and might even draw more attention from the dog if it sees it as a stick it wants to retreive. So the fact that the officer defended himself with his firearm does make sense. Look at the officer's he a good officer? Does he get comendations?

Like I said before, I find it very hard to believe that an officer would just walk up and shoot a dog that was just sitting there. And I am sure that the MPD will conduct a thorough investigation since I'm sure they wouldn't want someone who would just walk up and shoot a dog that was just sitting there if that unlikely event is what occured. In the mean time, you and everyone else who chastizes the officer for not being trained to recognize when a dog is playing should quit putting the blame on the officer. If the investigation comes back to find that the shooting was justified, I hope everyone will chastize Scooby's owner for not having his dog on a leash with the same speed and fervor...but my hunch is that they will not. It's much easier to point blame at others when there is a picture of a cute dog with a flag in his mouth and the owner has a TV camera in his face talking about what a loving dog he was and the officer can't go on TV to defend his actions.

I suggest going to your nearest MPD district station and ride along with an officer for a few hours. I have done it before and it showed me how much work a lot of the officers do and what kind of pressure they're under to make what could be a life or death decision every time they interact with people (and animals) and to never underestimate what could happen in any situation.

Lauren said...

Cops don't have to take IQ tests to get into the force. So it's not a huge surprise that a cop would do something retarded.

Unfortunately, they have the power. Keep the dogs on a leash for your own safety. Who knows when the next retard is going to decide that the tail-wagging critter is actually Cujo?