by Derek Gilna
The city of Detroit, Michigan, has settled a Section 1983 federal civil rights suit filed by Kenneth Savage and Ashley Franklin after police unnecessarily shot three dogs while confiscating potted marijuana plants from the owners’ enclosed yard.
The $225,000 settlement was the most recent payout by the city’s Major Violators Unit, where one officer has killed 73 dogs during his career.
In the current incident, the complaint alleged that police officers shot the plaintiffs’ properly licensed dogs from behind a fence without giving them an opportunity to secure them and, after wounding two of the animals, chased them into the garage and shot them again, “even though they did not pose an imminent threat” to the officers.
According to plaintiffs’ attorney, Chris Olson, “As far as I know this is the largest settlement of this kind that the city of Detroit has made. I think it was a very serious matter, and the city’s settlement reflects that.” In a similar case, the city paid $100,000 to another plaintiff after police officers shot a dog chained to a fence.
The police were initially drawn to the plaintiffs’ property by the presence of several potted marijuana plants in the back yard, which the owners were permitted to possess because they had a medical marijuana permit, although that did not permit them to display them in the back yard. When the owners produced that permit and asked to see the officers’ warrant, the officers said, “If you keep asking for a warrant, we are gonna kill those dogs and call child protective services to pick up your kid,” according to the complaint.
In another case, a federal district court judge previously ruled that an owner had no cognizable property interest in an unlicensed dog, police could treat the animal as contraband, and kill it without legal consequences. That case is currently on appeal in the Sixth Circuit.
However, in another federal lawsuit involving unlicensed dogs, U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow wrote that Detroit’s defense “is misplaced for several reasons …. Nowhere in Michigan’s Dog Law is there language that 1) deprives a dog owner of her possessory interest in her dog simply because the dog is unlicensed, and/or 2) authorizes the killing of a dog by virtue of the fact that it’s unlicensed.”
If it seems as though police shoot a lot of dogs, it’s because they do.
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