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No Qualified Immunity for Colorado Cop Who Killed a Puppy in Empty Parking Lot

by Jo Ellen Nott

On September 21, 2022, United States District Judge Raymond P. Moore denied qualified immunity to defendant Matthew Grashorn, a Loveland, Colorado, policer officer who shot a family pet seconds after being called to an empty parking lot to investigate an allegation of dumpster tampering.   

Police officer Matthew Grashorn arrived at the vacant parking of a local Loveland business on June 29, 2019, responding to the business owner’s request to see why a truck had parked in his vacant lot and what the occupants were looking at in the back of their truck. Within 15 seconds of arriving, Officer Grashorn shot the couple’s 14-month-old pit bull/boxer mix twice, causing the animal to die four days later at a vet’s office.  

Wendy Love and Jay Hamm sued Officer Grashorn and the city of Loveland claiming their young dog approached the officer with normal curiosity and never posed a threat. Grashorn claimed the dog ran towards him aggressively and justified his use of deadly force.  Grashorn also claimed he was entitled to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations for money damages under federal law. Qualified immunity holds as along as the officials do not violate “clearly established” law they are immune from civil liability.

One year after filing the lawsuit, Love and Hamm learned that Officer Grashorn had been denied qualified immunity by the federal court because the court agreed that the killing of their pet was not only a seizure under the Fourth Amendment but an unreasonable one at that. 

Judge Moore’s order does not discuss whether the violation of the couple’s Fourth Amendment rights has been clearly established.  TechDirt’s Tim Cushing believes that will come into play during the inevitable appeal of the September 2022 order. The decision does point out that a reasonable officer would not believe deadly force was justified in this situation. If the ruling withstands an appeal, cops who kill dogs in Colorado will need to present evidence of a direct threat rather than a feeling of being “threatened” when dogs approach them.  

Laurel Matthews with the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services office calls fatal police vs. dog encounters an epidemic.  The supervisory program specialist estimated that an astounding 25 to 30 dogs are killed every day by police.

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