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

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Update, 8:08 a.m. November 29: Earlier this week, we told you about the shooting of Chloe, a pit bull mix, by a Commerce City police officer; look below to see our previous coverage. Now, the Animal Law Center's Jennifer Edwards has reportedly taken the case and plans a lawsuit against Commerce City -- the very community she unsuccessfully took to court over a similar incident mere months ago. Meanwhile, a police department rep decries media coverage of the case.

Chloe was being temporarily kept at a Commerce City house (despite the town's pit bull ban) 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.

One of the bullets ricocheted out of the garage, where the incident took place, and appears to have struck the community service officer's vehicle. However, no one other than Chloe was hurt.

In a release, the Commerce City Police Department portrayed the shooting as necessary in order to protect members of the community. The CCPD also noted that following an officer's shooting and killing of another dog in 2010, all members of the department, including those who took part in the recent incident, went through training to understand the best way to handle situations involving dogs. The release added that a jury "determined the officers' actions were justified" in the 2010 matter.

That's true: According to Edwards, the case was resolved in August, with the jury determining that the officer acted reasonably in fulfilling her duties. But Edwards remains troubled by contradictions in testimony. The officer said she was under attack by three dogs, the attorney notes, and she was forced to shoot and kill the one in the lead in order to defend herself. Yet Edwards says she had two witnesses who saw only one dog (Zoey, described as being of mixed breed) rather than three. Moreover, those witnesses believed Zoey was quite a distance from the officer -- claims that might have been proven by an autopsy had the dog not already been cremated.

Despite hearing this testimony, the jurors ruled in the officer's favor. But the latest shooting suggests to Edwards that the Commerce City department has what she terms "an endemic problem" when it comes to the way it deals with dog-related situations. She also asserts that after the 2010 shooting, the CCPD didn't take the training it received seriously -- "and that manifested itself in what happened to Chloe."

Detective Christian Rasmussen, spokesman for the CCPD, rejects that claim. "I can assure you the entire department took the training seriously," he says. "That's why we went through it. We wouldn't go through training like that if we didn't think it would be beneficial, or if we didn't take it seriously."

Rasmussen declined to go into details about the case, which has now been handed over to the Adams County District Attorney's Office for investigation -- and he didn't know if Chloe has been cremated. But he was unhappy with the media's reporting about the shooting.

"I think it started out extremely poorly -- it was extremely one-sided and wasn't portrayed accurately or fairly," he says. "There were even comments put out in the media about the community service officer's reaction and her mental state" -- a reference to reports that she was distraught after Chloe was killed. "No one spoke to her, and without getting her comments on something like that, well, I just think that's poor journalism. I think it's unprofessional to report on things like this without getting as many sides of the story as possible."

When we get more details about the proposed lawsuit against Commerce City, we'll update this post.

Continue to read our previous coverage about the dog shooting incident, including videos.

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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