Shooting a Dog May Be a Fourth Amendment Seizure

Ray v. Roane, 948 F.3d 222 (4th Cir. 2020)

Officers went to Tina Ray’s house to arrest her for domestic abuse. Several officers arrived before Officer Roane. When Roane arrived, he parked in the yard. Ray’s dog, a 150-lb. German Shepherd, was tethered on a line that ran between two trees. Roane parked in the area accessible to the dog.

When Roane got out of his truck, the other officers shouted at him to wait until Ray could control her dog. The dog charged at Roane, so he drew his gun and backed away. Ray ran toward the dog, calling its name. Roane shot the dog. Ray claimed the dog could not have reached Roane at the point he shot the dog. Ray sued and the trial court granted qualified immunity to the officer and dismissed the lawsuit.

The court held privately-owned dogs are “effects” under the Fourth Amendment, and the shooting and killing of such a dog constitutes a “seizure.”

The trial court ruled, “at worst, this was a ‘classic case’ of a bad guess in a gray area or a reasonable but mistaken judgment” made in a split second and therefore the shooting of the dog was not an unreasonable seizure. Ray appealed. Though some evidence contradicted Ray’s claim, the court had to accept her version of the facts (the lower court had dismissed the lawsuit and the appellate court was bound to accept as true Ray’s claims in her complaint—at least for purposes of the appeal).

The appellate court, constrained by the limited facts and compelled to ignore the information in Roane’s favor, reversed. The court held privately-owned dogs are “effects” under the Fourth Amendment, and the shooting and killing of such a dog constitutes a “seizure.” The court also held a reasonable officer would have known shooting a dog in similar circumstances—again, assuming the complete truthfulness of the complaint—was the unreasonable use of deadly force. Thus, Roane was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Amid the many topics that compete for limited training time, departments should consider training officers on canine encounters. Animal rights activists have pressed for policies and training, as well as legislation, to reduce dog shootings. Lawsuits over police dog shootings are becoming more common, and several states have passed laws mandating training to reduce dog shootings during police encounters (including California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio and Texas). Other states offer non-mandatory training on the same topic. VirTra® partnered with the National Sheriff’s Association’s National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse program to present a training course on canine encounters  featuring highly realistic virtual reality scenarios and high-quality video training materials. Click here for more information.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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