by Jayson Hawkins
They put me and my son on our knees to watch her die. The officer squatted over her while she was dying with the search warrant, and he said, ‘You know why we’re here?’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t know,’” Angela Zorich recalled of the day a St. Louis County tactical operations unit broke down her door and shot the family dog. “When he said, ‘We’re here because your gas is off,’ I lost it.”
The killing of the Zorich’s 4-year-old pit bull, Kiya, was the last in a series of unfortunate events.
The family was facing foreclosure on their home in April 2014 when they turned off the gas line to avoid yet another bill they could not afford. A neighbor reported them to the police, and the complaint reached Robert Rinck, problem properties unit officer. He requested a warrant to inspect the house — a minor matter of checking the gas line — which somehow resulted in the militarized raid and shooting.
At the ensuing civil trial, Priscilla Gunn, the county’s defense attorney, argued that armored officers and forced entry were necessary due to “a known history of confrontations between members of the Zorich family and police.” The defense also maintained that officers only opened fire because the dog charged them.
Jim Crosby, an expert in officer-involved shootings, offered testimony contradicting the police account, pointing out that Kiya had been shot in the back.
Following a week of trial, the county settled with the Zorich family rather than risk a jury award. The $750,000 settlement was one of the largest known for this type of case.
Crosby commented that the size of the settlement reflects both a growing recognition of the value of pets and that cops must be accountable for their actions. “St. Louis County has to recognize they made a mistake, has to address the problem, and has to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Confidentiality clauses usually keep such settlements under wraps, but the decision by Sam Page, the St. Louis County Executive, to go public with the details demonstrates a desire to be more transparent. Officials have also promised changes in policies governing search warrants. The previous procedure was to deploy the SWAT team to conduct every single search warrant—even for what amounted to, in the Zorich’s case, a crime of poverty. In St. Louis County, at least, shooting first and asking questions later has proven too costly.
Sources: stltoday.com, politicalhotwire.com
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