divided federal appeals court panel has reversed a summary judgment in
favor of police in a civil rights case over two pet dogs shot to death
during the execution of a search warrant at the plaintiff's home in a
Las Vegas suburb.
the facts alleged by Louisa Thurston in the manner most favorable to
the plaintiff in the Section 1983 case, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals held that material issues of fact precluded
summary judgment concerning alleged violations of the Fourth and 14th
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. For example, it was not clear
whether the City of North Las Vegas Police Department should have had an
animal control officer on hand and why there was a 20-minute delay
after the officers' arrival before the dogs were shot to death, an
appellate panel said in a 2-1 Thursday opinion (PDF).
is marked "not for publication" and hence has limited value as
precedent. But it explains the majority's thinking in refusing to OK the
trial judge's finding that qualified immunity applied to the department
and individual officers involved. The 9th Circuit panel did agree with
the trial judge that the city itself could not be held liable, since
there was "no evidence that the officers shot Thurston's dogs pursuant
to a formal governmental policy or long-standing practice which
constitutes the standard operating procedure of the city."
slain dogs were a 70-pound pit bull and a 140-pound mastiff, according
to the opinion. The search warrant was executed by a SWAT team on
Thurston's husband, Michael Martin, who was wanted on armed robbery
dissenting judge said he would have affirmed because there was no
evidence that the police knew the dogs, who appeared to be confined in
the fenced back yard, could get in the house where officers said they
Thurston told the Las Vegas Review-Journal her dogs were friendly and she wanted to pursue the case to protect other families from going through what she did.
did they do it?" she said of the police officers who, she insisted, saw
the big dogs "wiggling their tails" when the SWAT team arrived. "None
of them were bitten. ... I begged with them not to hurt my dogs."
Three small dogs that Thurston also owned were not harmed by police, the newspaper notes.
Sen. David Parks plans to introduce a bill next year that would provide
for police to be trained in dog behavior to try to avoid situations in
which pets are shot.