Commerce City Police dog shooting: Owner devastated, confused by pit bull label

Page 4 of 6

Update, 9:09 a.m. November 30: Yesterday, we reported that Animal Law Center attorney Jennifer Edwards' services had been retained in the case of Chloe, a dog shot and killed by a Commerce City police officer during an incident caught on video; get details in our previous coverage below. Edwards provides additional details about her clients, the facts of the case and the strong possibility that she'll be filing suit against Commerce City, a community she sued over a 2010 dog shooting.

The story revolves around Chloe, who's widely reported to have been a pit bull -- a designation that frosts Edwards. She describes Chloe as a "mixed-breed dog," and accuses Commerce City of engaging in "puppy profiling" by calling her a pit bull, presumably because the average person will automatically assume she was vicious because of her breed.

As we've reported, Chloe was being temporarily kept at a house in Commerce City, which instituted a pit bull ban several years ago, when she snuck out of the garage. A neighbor, Kenny Collins, called the authorities and recorded law enforcers' actions on a cell-phone camera. The video he shot shows Chloe being tased by a policeman and snared on a catch pole by a community service officer -- the equivalent of animal control in Commerce City. But the policeman felt Chloe remained out of control and fired his weapon multiple times, shooting and killing her.

In a release, the Commerce City Police Department stresses that the decision to shoot the dog was made in order to protect the public. But Edwards questions this claim.

"If you watch the video from beginning to end -- the longer version we have -- you see the officers standing around with complete and total disregard to an animal that's supposed to be so vicious," she says. "Chloe is just sitting in a garage not paying any attention to them -- certainly not paying the sort of attention that would justify shooting off five rounds where there are witnesses nearby and letting stray bullets fly around."

No one other than Chloe was injured by the gunshots. However, it appears that one bullet ricocheted and struck the community service officer's vehicle. And Edwards says a Fox31 crew member found another shell at the scene, suggesting that officers didn't successfully account for all of them.

In addition, Edwards says, a dog named Jack was also in the garage at the time of the shooting, inside a wire kennel. But when the gunfire sounded, she goes on, "Jack broke out of the kennel and took off, and he was left to run the neighborhood. They did nothing to secure Jack and put him back in the residence -- a dog that was clearly running scared and might have reacted negatively out of fear."

She sees this lack of action as another example of profiling -- assuming that Jack wouldn't hurt anyone, because he isn't a pit bull.

Still, Edwards sees the other elements of the video as being even more damning. "In the minutes before the shooting, we see the officers standing with their backs to the dog, which was less than ten feet away. They show no concern about safety that would rise to the level of shooting a dog -- and Chloe is just sitting there, paying no attention to them. If this dog was such an imminent threat and so vicious, you'd think you wouldn't be able to take your eye off her, but the officers are there for several minutes -- and during that time, she doesn't do anything that would warrant what ultimately happened to her."

While Edwards declines to name her clients at this point, she notes that they include Chloe's actual owner, who was out of town on vacation when the shooting occurred ("He's still trying to deal with this horrific tragedy," she says), and the family members watching the dog in his absence. The latter face a series of allegations involving having a vicious or dangerous dog, allowing a dog to run at large, lacking a dog license and a rabies vaccination, and allegedly violating the aforementioned pit bull ordinance.

Each of these counts is "highly defensible," Edwards says, and she's hoping Commerce City "does the right thing" and drops them. Yet she's also keeping her options open about suing over the incident, in part because she believes the community's police force has a culture of mishandling such situations that needs to be addressed. While an officer she sued after killing a dog in 2010 was found to have acted within the parameters of her duty in an August trial (details below), she continues to maintain that officers didn't take subsequent dog training seriously -- an allegation denied by a Commerce City police spokesman in an interview also included in previous coverage found here.

"This is a real problem with Commerce City," Edwards allows. "They had this mandatory training as a result of the last lawsuit we filed, but they joked about it in the training, in the depositions. We have it on record; they thought it was a joke. And now, it has manifested itself in the murder of a dog. And that was someone's family pet."

Continue for our previous coverage on the shooting of Chloe, including photos and videos.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts