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Des Moines couple sues police for shooting beloved dog

The owners of Rosie, a 4-year-old Newfoundland, are suing Des Moines police for shooting their beloved pet after it got loose. (Image courtesy Wright Family/Pasado's Safe Haven)

A Des Moines couple is now suing police for shooting their beloved dog after it got out of their yard.

A neighbor called police when Rosie, a 4-year-old Newfoundland, was seen wandering loose while her owners Deirdre and Charles Wright were out of town in Nov. 2010. They were concerned the dog might get hurt.

Three Des Moines officers responded and encountered the 115-pound dog barking in the Wright’s driveway. But she wouldn’t let the police get close. She ran, and for the next hour, police chased her for blocks, twice trying to subdue her with a Taser. They ultimately cornered her in a neighbor’s yard and shot her four times with an assault rifle.

Audio of the entire incident obtained by The Seattle Times was captured on a dashboard camera. Officers can be heard debating what to do when they capture the dog. One suggested using a Taser. Another suggested “choking her out.”

But the audio reveals officers began talking about shooting Rosie within 10 minutes of their arrival. “I’ll shoot him. Let’s just go shoot him,” an officer is heard in the recording.

The shooting sparked massive outrage in the community. Thousands have signed an online petition demanding the officers be punished. There have been a number of memorials and a vigil for Rosie and her family.

A lawyer for the city says the Des Moines Police Department conducted a thorough internal review of the shooting and determined the officers acted appropriately. Two other reviews reached similar conclusions.

But the Wrights are now suing the city, filing a federal lawsuit Nov. 17. Adam Karp, a Bellingham laywer for the couple, told Ross and Burbank officers were intent on shooting the dog from the outset and made no effort to contact them. He alleged police acted inhumanely when they killed her.

“It’s my opinion they engaged in criminal misconduct and certainly violated the civil rights of my client,” Karp said.

Witnesses said the dog was “just sitting there” in the Wright’s driveway when one of the officers used the Taser, sending the dog running.

Neighbor Lora Perry told the Times Rosie had slipped into her fenced yard and was “just sniffing around” when police arrived.

“It was clear they were there to shoot her. She wasn’t doing anything. She was just sitting there,” she said.

“The only defenses that might exist that warrant the shooting or maiming of an animal is if there’s an imminent threat of legitimate harm to a person or animal,” Karp said. “And the evidence really is undisputed that at the time they discharged the rifle, she wasn’t threatening, barking growling.”

Ron Weber, a former police officer and criminal science expert, questioned the officers’ actions in an interview with KIRO Radio.

“What really got me was the fact the dog was contained, wasn’t really posing a threat. And it sounded like the homeowner was okay with the dog being in their backyard for the time being, which would actually give you time to formulate a plan and figure out what to do.”

Karp said police and the city have made no effort to settle the case and there’s been no apology from police.

“I do know that the police guild got into a bit of a snit with the mayor who showed support for the Wrights at a vigil that occurred shortly after her killing. So apparently there’s a split really between the departments and the agency heads over how to deal with this properly,” he said.

In addition to seeking damages for his clients, Karp said he hopes the federal suit will also lead to changes in training for police on how to deal with dogs.

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