Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trial of Police Officer Who Shot Peach

On Monday, July 28th, the trial of the DC police officer who shot the beautiful dog Peach in August 2005 got underway in the courtroom of Judge Thomas J. Motley in the D.C. Superior Court. The trial is a civil case against the officer brought by Peach's owners, Barry and Palmer Graham, and is meant solely to establish the liability of the officer in shooting Peach. This posting will eventually be revised to include Blogger's observations about the facts and the law brought out in that trial after it concludes, which it is expected to do in a day or so. In the meantime, for those not familiar with the background of the story that first appeared in the Washington Post in August 2005, please click here. (You may also wish to read about the case of the boxed named Scooby shot on Christmas eve and about the dog named Precious who was shot on May 23rd, both of which are expected to go to a trial someday too. If you study those three cases, you will begin to ask yourself, what is going on here?)

If you own a dog in Washington, however the trial of the officer who shot Peach turns out, you might want to read about this sad case (and the other cases) and take one of the suggested actions that will be indicated later on this blog to help put an end to this serious problem.

If you do not own a dog, you still might wish to read about this case because this case has ramifications way beyond just the shooting of a dog. At a minimum, it concerns the cavalier way that the MPD has treated the use of force. Until this posting is finalized, Blogger wishes to give readers several things to think about.

First, every dog owner in Washington, and perhaps many, many more people beyond that, owe a sincere gesture of gratitude to Barry and Palmer Graham for having the courage to bring this civil case against the MPD and the officer who shot Peach. It is Blogger's conclusion that the only reason they brought it was to prevent such unjustified killings of our pets in the future. For too long, the MPD has been shooting our dogs (according to Chief Lanier, about 15 dogs are killed by police each year) without any fear that they would be held accountable. And in fact, of all the cases Blogger has read about, not a single officer was ever even reprimanded or brought to be held accountable for such shootings even though every officer with whom Blogger has spoken (and there have been many) has expressed disgust at the actions of their fellow officers. Because of what the Graham's are doing, however the case turns out for them, many dogs will be spared fates similar to Peach's in the future.

Second, to the credit of Chief Lanier, the MPD has recognized their shortcomings in not providing their officers with any training on how to handle dogs. Thanks to the compassionate and professional response of officers such as Inspector Victor Brito at the Police Academy, the MPD now requires all of its recruits to undergo one day of intensive training at the Academy on handling dogs. In particular, the recruits will learn how to overcome their fear of dogs, how to recognize aggressive behavior in dogs, how to defuse an aggressive dog, and how to apply the Use of Force continuum against an aggressive dog if all else fails. After the new program has been successfully introduced, it will be extended to all officers through the semi-annual range training, roll-call training and distance learning.

Third, despite the expected success of the new program, the facts brought out at the present trial so far have given this Blogger much cause for concern. For instance, the MPD, as represented by the DC Office of Attorney General, believes that the Use of Force Continuum does not apply to the shootings of dogs, even if someone was holding the dog when it was shot (see the story on Precious, elsewhere on this blog). As an extension of that, the MPD believes that it has the right to shoot an unleashed dog, even on the owner's property, if the officer believes it was about the be bitten without regard to how serious the bite might be or without regard to how real that threat was. If you own a dog in the District, these few discoveries alone should give you great cause for concern not only about your dog, but about your own safety also. What should also give you pause is that the DC Attorney's office really wants to win this case. Not only does the new attorney general personally decide which cases will go to trial or not, but he has assigned seven (yes, 7) attorneys to this case. This last fact alone should send up a red flag to not only all dog owners but to all taxpayers.

Blogger truly believes that the overwhelming majority of DC police officers know from their own experiences how to handle dogs and how to utilize the Use of Force Continuum against both dogs and people. However, a majority is not enough to protect your dog. One hundred percent of the police force must learn these things. Until they do, no dog on the street or in its own yard, leased or unleashed, is safe. Unfortunately, not everyone will heed these words and many dogs will die needlessly over the next years until we citizens can fix this problem, hopefully in partnership with the MPD. As for the Use of Force in general, DC was on the Department of Justice's Watch list for excessive use of force by its officers until just recently. Many of us who approach that subject through the eyes of our dogs are still concerned, not only for our own safety or the lives of our dogs, but for others, including the MPD officers themselves.

At a recent community meeting with Mayor Fenty, Blogger raised the issue of the police shooting dogs, and Mayor Fenty agreed wholeheartedly that he will not tolerate unjustified shootings of dogs. City council member such as Mary Cheh, Jack Evans, and Phil Mendelson also have concern for what the city's department is doing to our animals. Blogger also knows that Chief Lanier shares many of these concerns. However, the police force is more than 4000 officers, and each one of them has to be trained in not only how to handle dogs, but what dogs mean to the lives of the people of the District of Columbia. To be sure, we citizens will not be able to stop the malicious actions of some officers, such as the one of shot Precious on May 23rd of this year, but we can go a long way to making those officer accountable for their actions.

Please return to this blog posting soon for some of Blogger's observations on the trial of the officer who shot Peach and what you can do to help stop the MPD from shooting our dogs simply for acting like dogs.

Thank you for reading this blog.

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