Bletz v. Corrie, 2020 WL 5405375 (3rd Cir. 2020)
Pennsylvania State Troopers had surrounded the Bletz residence and were moments away from serving a search warrant for an armed robbery suspect believed to be living there. Just then, Jeffrey Bletz opened the back door of the residence and let his dog, Ace, a large Rottweiler/Labrador Retriever mix, out to relieve himself. Trooper Corrie and Trooper Drum were approaching the left side of the house.
Trooper Corrie heard Trooper Drum shout excitedly. Trooper Corrie turned and saw Ace charging toward him, “already mid-leap, within an arm’s reach,” at about chest height. Ace had his teeth bared and was aggressively growling. Trooper Corrie quickly backed up, but Ace circled to the side and charged him again. Trooper Corrie fired a shot; Ace moved and charged from another direction. Trooper Corrie then fired two more shots.
The third shot struck Ace in the side. He ran to the garage, where Bletz was located. Ace died within a few minutes. Bletz sued, alleging an unlawful seizure, intentional infliction of emotional distress and failure to train.
The court held the trooper was entitled to summary judgment. It is established law that the killing of a person’s dog by an officer constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the court must balance the officer’s safety interests against the pet owner’s possessory interests to determine whether the seizure was reasonable.
Emphasizing the court’s decision was not that Trooper Corrie implemented the best response possible, the court stated its task was to determine whether the seizure was objectively reasonable—and it was.
The court determined Trooper Corrie acted reasonably. Trooper Corrie and Trooper Drum were the only ones to witness the attack. They both testified Ace aggressively charged at Trooper Corrie, growling and showing his teeth, as though about to attack—and that he did not relent until subdued by the third bullet. The court noted, “We hold that the use of deadly force against a household pet is reasonable if the pet poses an imminent threat to the law enforcement officer’s safety, viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer.”
Bletz argued an alternative basis for finding the seizure was unreasonable was the lack of training provided to Trooper Corrie for the “safe handling of dogs.” Some states mandate canine encounter training for officers. Emphasizing the court’s decision was not that Trooper Corrie implemented the best response possible, the court stated its task was to determine whether the seizure was objectively reasonable—and it was.
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