As we reported earlier this month, the shooting of Chloe, the beloved dog of Gary Branson, has caused quite a stir. The incident was caught on video, and footage showing an officer firing shots at the dog five times has led to an outpouring of support on a petition page and a Justice for Chloe Facebook page. And now the Adams County District Attorney's office has announced that Robert Price, the officer, is facing a felony charge of animal cruelty.
Branson's attorney tells us that this kind of charge is unprecedented, and hopes it will send a clear message to enforcement agencies across the state that cruelty against animals cannot be tolerated.
The officer in question is being placed on paid administrative leave and others involved are currently not on patrol, according to a Commerce City officials.
Yesterday, the District Attorney's office sent out this statement, which the Justice for Chloe Facebook page also published:
Adams County District Attorney Don Quick announced today that his office has made the filing decision concerning the shooting of a dog by Commerce City Police Officer Robert Price on November 24, 2012. On November 27th, the Commerce City Police Department requested the District Attorney's Office conduct an independent investigation into the shooting. In the last three weeks, District Attorney Investigators have:
• Reviewed in detail the reports by the responding officers, both police and animal control officers
• Canvassed the neighborhood where the shooting occurred for additional witnesses concerning the dog being loose and/or being shot
• Interviewed 15 additional witnesses
• Investigated the scene of the shooting
• Collected evidence from the scene and from additional witnesses
• Received and reviewed the video of the shooting
• Received and reviewed the 911 tape concerning the dog being loose
• Attended the necropsy of the dog at CSU's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and had a forensic pathologist who is an expert in gunshot wounds participate in the necropsy.
Based on our investigation, the District Attorney is charging Officer Price with Aggravated Cruelty to Animals pursuant to C.R.S. §18-9-202(1.5)(b). This offense is a class six felony. Other aspects of the case are still under investigation and no other charging decisions have been made, and therefore there will be no further statements from the District Attorney's Office at this time.
Chloe was temporarily staying at a house in Commerce City, which instituted a pit bull ban several years ago, when she snuck out of a garage. A neighbor called the authorities and recorded subsequent events on a cell-phone camera. Chloe was tased by a policeman and snared on a catch pole.
After the incident, Chloe was widely reported to have been a pit bull, but when Animal Law Center attorney and founder Jennifer Edwards took on the case, she told us that Chloe is a "mixed-breed dog" and said that the city was engaging in "puppy profiling."
The charging of the officer is a huge victory that she never expected, Edwards says: "It's a small step for man, but it's a huge leap for animals. It really is."
Edwards says that she's worked on many similar cases that have gotten nowhere. But this time, with clear footage and a thorough investigation, the DA's office recognized the seriousness of the officer's actions.
"Never have I experienced a police officer being charged, and never a felony," she says. "It's not a slap on the wrist like so many [other cases]. I really have to commend DA Don Quick."
She continues, "Frankly, I just didn't have a lot of faith in any DAs office or any police [department]...doing the right thing."
It's one thing to say that the shooting was not justified, but it's all the more meaningful that the DA's office is alleging that there was serious wrongdoing worthy of a felony charge, she says.
Michelle Halstead, a communications director with Commerce City, tells us that the city has authorized an independent administrative review of the case by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and that the city's incoming police chief will review the findings and see where there might be opportunities for improvement.
"We're taking this very seriously," she says. "We place the highest value on the safety and well being of the community, its people and their property."
The DA's office sats that the officer's first court date is set for January 24.
Edwards says that other law enforcement agencies should look to the Adams County DA in handling similar cases in the future.
"I truly hope that what DA Don Quick and what his investigators did and the findings will be a model for other jurisdictions to follow, and I hope that that sets the kind of precedent that we're not going to tolerate...police officers treating our family pets like this," she says.
Of her client, she adds, "It was a very, very emotional day for him yesterday.... He was just kind of speechless. He just couldn't even find the words to explain how he felt."
While he is glad that the officer is being charged, she adds, it just reaffirms the pain that his animal felt at the end of her life. "The other part of it...is this officer was very cruel to his animal and Chloe suffered.... To him, this is losing a member of his family."
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