BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A jury has awarded $1.26 million to a family whose dog was shot and killed by police in February 2014.
According to a press release from the Hansel Law firm in Baltimore, the three-day trial took place in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.
“The verdict sends a strong message to the police about how community expectations,” said counsel for the plaintiff, Cary J. Hansel. “The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well. Shooting Vern was senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
Vern, who was 4-and-a-half, was shot by Anne Arundel County police officer Officer Rodney Price. Price claimed that he was attacked by Vern, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, which also happens to be the Maryland State dog , at the Glen Burnie home of Vern’s owner, Michael Reeves, while he was looking into a neighborhood burglary.
“He says ‘I’m really really sorry I just had to shoot him,’ and I’m like ‘you didn’t have to,’” said owner Mike Reeves.
“I mean you’re trained to use pepper spray, mace, a baton, there were so many things that I think could been avoided,” said another owner, Patrick Reeves.
The jury found that Price was not attacked by the dog, and that the shooting violated his owner’s constitutional rights, and was committed with gross negligence.
During the trial, the officer admitted that the dog did not bite or otherwise injure him before the shooting, the law firm says. The officer also said no other steps were taken to deal with the dog before the officer pulled his gun and fired it twice.
“I’ve never heard him growl. He’d bark but I never heard him go after anybody,” said neighbor Howard Seltzer. “He was a beautiful animal.”
At the time of shooting, Price was placed on administrative duty. Police say he is still currently with the agency.
The firm says its “the largest verdict in U.S. history for a police dog shooting.”
In court Vern’s necropsy revealed Price’s testimony over how the shooting occurred also didn’t add up.