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Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Another police shoot pet dog case

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Case: SNEADE v. Rojas, Dist. Court, D. Massachusetts 2014

What happened:

On March 24, 2008, Sneade made an emergency call to the Worcester Police Department (“WPD”) as the result of an argument between she and her uncle[4], Alfred Sneade (“Alfred”) who was intoxicated. The dispatcher who took the call reported that a woman could be heard screaming in the background and that a subsequent 911 emergency hang up call was received from the residence. Officer Rojas and Officer Andrew Cravedi (“Cravedi”) responded to the call. Shawn Daley (“Daley”), a counselor working with Williamson, Sneade’s oldest son, stood outside the home as Officers Rojas and Cravedi approached the front door to the residence.

The residence was a three decker apartment building. Sneade, Williamson, Russell (Sneade’s daughter), Sneade’s son Nathan, and Alfred all lived on the first floor. Two adult dogs, Bruno and Ceece, and their four puppies also lived in the apartment. Bruno was a four year old Boxer/Chow Chow mix; he weighed approximately eighty-five pounds.

Upon exiting his marked police car, Officer Rojas heard the screaming and shouting of a female voice[5]. Daley identified himself as Williamson’s counselor and told the officers that the disturbance was at Sneade’s residence. Sneade let Officer Rojas into the house. Officer Cravedi remained outside as Officer Rojas entered the residence. Sneade continued to yell at someone inside and appeared agitated.

Officer Rojas entered Sneade’s apartment through a living room with couches and a TV; to the right was a threshold leading to a dining room; and beyond the dining room, to the right, was a door leading into the kitchen. As Officer Rojas entered the residence, Russell was seated on one of the sofas in the living room. Williamson and Nathan were in Sneade’s bedroom watching television.

Once Officer Rojas entered, Sneade began to walk toward the kitchen to lead Officer Rojas to her intoxicated uncle who was in the kitchen. As Sneade opened the door to the kitchen, Bruno ran out of the kitchen, stood in the dining room and barked at him.[6] Bruno came to a stop, sat down and continued to bark at Officer Rojas. Bruno was 1-2 feet away from Officer Rojas, who was at the threshold to the dining room. Officer Rojas put on his gloves and fired his gun at Bruno twice; one shot hit Bruno in the shoulder, the other hit him in the head. The two shots were fired within seconds of each other. At the time that Officer Rojas fired his gun, neither Sneade nor any of her family members were in the dining room; there were no individuals in his line of fire, or in danger of being struck. Russell, who was closest, was sitting behind Officer Rojas on a couch in the living room. Officer Rojas never asked anyone in the residence to get control of Bruno before firing his gun and did not attempt any lesser use of force to control Bruno. The events of the shooting happened quickly and took a matter of seconds.

Williamson came out of the bedroom after hearing the shots and his mother screaming. He found Bruno in a pool of blood; he sat next to the dog and held him. After the shooting, Sneade ordered Officers Rojas and Cravedi out of the residence.

Backup police were called after the shooting. Approximately four additional Worcester police officers arrived at the Sneade residence after the shooting. Plaintiffs rebuffed any further police assistance using expletives and other harsh words to indicate their displeasure towards the police. At Plaintiffs’ request, Bruno was transported by a City animal control officer to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University Veterinary Clinic. He had to be euthanized.

Decision: The opinion states that it is unlikely the pet owners will win, but District Judge Timothy S. Hillman decided that there was not enough evidence in the record to decide the case just yet.

Interesting quote:

[E]ven if a jury were to find that Officer Rojas wrongfully shot Bruno, as a matter of law, his conduct would not rise to the requisite level of outrageousness and atrocity sufficient to permit recovery. Furthermore, the loss of a pet is very traumatic and emotional. But Massachusetts law creates an extremely high hurdle which must be overcome in order to maintain a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Even assuming that a jury determines that Officer Rojas acted unreasonably in shooting Bruno, there is no evidence in the record to support a finding that any Plaintiff suffered the severe emotional distress (such that no reasonble person could be expected to endure it) sufficient to make out a claim.

Comment: Speaking not as a judge, or a lawyer, but as a person, I think that watching your pet dog get shot in the head should qualify as “severe emotional distress.”

Written by Burgers Allday

March 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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