Wilfred Europe, deputy, not charged in Ziggy the dog's shooting, attorney frustrated
Ziggy's owner, Jeff Fisher, maintains that the shooting was unjustified, but Dave Young, DA for the 17th Judicial District, will not charge Europe with a crime -- a choice that frustrates Fisher's attorney. But she sees hope in a proposed bill to require that officers undergo dog-related training.
When asked about Young's decision letter in the Europe case, the Animal Law Center's Jennifer Edwards says, "I'm not surprised, but of course, I'm disappointed." However, she adds, "it doesn't deter my client or anyone else from continuing to seek justice for Ziggy."
Here's how Edwards described what led to Ziggy's death in the days following the incident, which took place at around 8 p.m. January 14 near the intersection of 54th and Tennyson.
"My client...was working late," she told us. "He owns a commercial-door business and he had Ziggy with him, as he always did. Then he felt a breeze coming through the door, which was strange, because he knew the security gate was locked. He got up to close the door, but when he started to do it, an officer forced his way in and put him at gunpoint."
Fisher "immediately dropped to the ground," she continued, "and as he did, Ziggy slipped through the door. Jeff called out to him a couple of times, and on the second time, Ziggy started back -- and as soon as he did that, another officer outside pulled his weapon and shot Ziggy without any reason at all. Ziggy dropped after the first hit, so I'm not sure why he would have shot round two and round three."
This action shocked Fisher, Edwards noted. "He was distraught, sobbing, upset." But rather than offering any reassuring words, she quoted one of the officers as saying, "Tell him to calm down. He can get another dog."
In addition, Fisher was not allowed to "go to the dog and render any care, see if he was breathing, get him to a vet," Edwards maintained. "They told him to sit still, said he wasn't allowed to move or make any phone calls."
When Fisher was granted permission to check on Ziggy (he's unsure about how much time had passed, but feels it could have been twenty or thirty minutes), the dog was dead.
The kicker? The deputies were at the wrong address. "They were responding to an alarm going off a whole street block away," Edwards says. "They didn't even have a reason to be there. They busted in the door, came in unannounced, shot his dog, didn't apologize -- and they're not even at the right place."
From early on, authorities disputed numerous elements of the Fisher-Edwards account. For example, Donald Sisson, an attorney representing Europe, told CBS4 that the alarm originated from the same multi-business complex that housed Fisher's operation, and deputies were in the midst of searching the entire thing. He also said that Ziggy charged at Europe, barking, growling and snapping his teeth, and continued to pursue him as he backpedaled approximately 25 feet. Fearing he was going to be bitten, he fired twice -- not the three times mentioned by Edwards -- and killed Ziggy.
Sisson also confirmed that Europe had shot another dog in the line of duty; the animal survived, and the deputy wasn't disciplined as a result of his actions. Likewise, he received no punishment after shooting and killing forty-year-old Don Cambron during a traffic stop last year. Cambron is said to have been reaching for a pellet gun after he was pulled over, prompting Europe to fire.
In his decision letter, Young didn't address Europe's previous experiences with gunplay, focusing instead on what happened the evening of the 14th from the viewpoints of Europe, Fisher and another deputy on the scene.
Europe told investigators that Ziggy, who measured 36 inches in length, just over 21 inches in height and weighed 57 pounds, ran toward him while displaying aggressive behavior, prompting him to flee backwards. The dog was too fast for him, though, so he kicked it in the chest to try to protect himself. An excerpt from the letter:
Deputy Europe stated that although he had his weapon drawn, that he "tried to avoid using lethal force on the dog," but that "the dog was not deterred and continued advancing forward to bite [him]." Deputy Edwards fired two rounds, stating that he would be bitten if he did not immediately incapacitate the dog.
The tale told by the other deputy at the scene echoed Europe's account. Meanwhile, the letter notes numerous contradictions between their statements and the one offered by Fisher. When told that Europe claimed to have kicked Ziggy, for instance, Fisher said, "He was twenty feet away from my dog. How could he kick him?"
How to decide who was telling the truth? Young references physical evidence, including the angle of the fatal shot. Another excerpt:
The dog was shot one time in the upper back region. The entrance wound of the bullet is at an angle of 43%, with a trajectory from the front to the rear of the animal. The location and significant downward angle of the entrance wound leads to the inference that the dog was shot in close proximity as it tried to bite Deputy Europe, as opposed to Mr. Fisher's statement that the dog was shot multiple times from a distance of 15 to 20 feet, including after it was down.
The kick also proved key in Young's analysis. He wrote:
The necropsy performed on the animal revealed signs of blunt force trauma to various anterior, or frontal, regions. Such evidence is consistent with the deputies' statements that Deputy Europe kicked the dog in an effort to prevent an attack, and it is certainly inconsistent with the theory that the dog was kicked after being shot, as bruising would not be present after the death of the animal.
Due to the nature of the circumstances, Deputy Europe had his handgun drawn prior to the encounter. Europe's attempt to kick the dog during his retreat is construed as an effort to utilize less lethal force. It cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Deputy Europe's conduct under the circumstances establishes the element of "needlessly kills" as is required to prove the crime of aggravated cruelty to animals. As such, there will be no filing of criminal charges against Deputy Wilfred Europe as it relates to the January 14, 2013 shooting of the dog owned by Jeff Fisher.
When asked about this conclusion, Edwards, Fisher's attorney, suggests that the letter has some significant gaps.
"They chose certain evidence to report on and neglected and did not discuss other evidence presented at the scene," she maintains. "There's no discussion of trajectory analysis or anything else, and a lot at the scene and in the necropsy [of Ziggy] wasn't discussed. So I think the letter went into chosen detail, a lot of which is very speculative and doesn't give the full story on all the evidence."
Does that mean Edwards is planning to file a civil suit in the case?
Edwards is non-committal about civil action, saying, "That's always a possibility in these types of cases." But she's eager to discuss a bill expected to be formally introduced this week by Representative David Balmer and Senator Lucia Guzman, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, that would require law enforcers to take annual classes about how to deal with dogs.
"It's a much-needed law," says Edwards, who spoke with Balmer about the issue prior to the bill's drafting. "And from what I'm hearing, other states might try to model laws after what Colorado does -- and that's important, because I know from consulting on cases in other states that this is a national problem."
At this writing, tweaks are being made to the legislation's original version; one change will be applying the training requirement to sheriff's offices as well as police departments. But Edwards is optimistic about its passage.
"Dogs are bipartisan," she says. "They're not associated with one party or the other, and whatever political persuasion you are, most people love dogs. So, with all the contention in the legislature over the gun bills, I'm hopeful this can bring everybody together."
She adds, "It's the perfect answer to what happened to Ziggy."
Here's a 7News report about the decision not to charge Deputy Europe, followed by DA Young's decision letter.
More from our News archive: "Dog shooting by deputy not his first: He claims self-defense in border-collie-mix killing."
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