Officer-involved dog shootings in Tri-State: Too aggressive?

CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Police Department has been involved in seven shootings since the beginning of last year, however, that number doesn't include officers who opened fire on dogs.

Cincinnati police used deadly force against aggressive dogs six times in the last 18 months, 9 On Your Side learned through an open records request. At least three dogs died from their injuries and others were injured by gunshots, reports show.

None of the officers involved were found to have violated department policies, according to internal investigations detailed in the reports.

An officer's right to use deadly force against animals is a hot topic because of an incident last month in Hawthorne outside of Los Angeles, Calif. The video that sparked outrage on social media sites is very hard to watch, but has garnered more than 5 million views on YouTube.

The three and half minute clip was recorded June 30 on a cellphone. In the video, a man identified in media reports as Leon Rosby exchanges words with Hawthorne police officers at a crime scene. Rosby places his Rottweiler in a car, and then is handcuffed by two officers. Moments later, the dog slips through the car's back window and approaches the officers.

The dog makes multiple moves towards the group. One officer draws his firearm and opens fire four times.

( WARNING: YouTube video contains graphic content and may not be suitable for all viewers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDBZr4ie2AE).

"If the dog is attacking and the officer is going to be injured, bitten, or they're going to lose control of the scene…then it's possible to use deadly force," said Harold Dates, CEO of Cincinnati's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Dates has been with SPCA for 38 years and works to train police officers for dealing with aggressive dogs.

Dates watched the Hawthorne video but isn't judging the officer's actions just yet.

"From what I've seen it's just difficult to tell," Dates said. "You don't know what led up to the incident. There were comments off camera. You don't know what the gentleman said to the police officers. You don't know if the gentleman had some kind of a way to call the dog out of the vehicle, and use him as a weapon against the officers. There's a lot of things that happened at that scene that you or I don't know about."

Price Hill resident Michael Moore, 75, will never forget what happened in March 2012, when someone in his neighborhood called police after two pit bulls got loose.

"I hated that the dog was shot, but this officer did not have any recourse in this situation," Moore said. "No options other than to shoot that dog."

Moore watched the shooting from his front yard. A police reports says Cincinnati officer Hollis Hudepohl shot one of the dogs after it "aggressively charged her." The dog was hit in the abdomen and retreated back into a nearby yard. The dog's owner was issued two citations for violating the city's leash laws. A subsequent review by her superiors found Hudepohl's actions were consistent with department policy, the report said.

The city's policy instructs officers to "exhaust all reasonable means to confine the dog."

Firearms are listed as a final resort after the officer has ruled out the use of pepper spray and a Taser gun.

Below is a list of guidelines for Cincinnati police officers to handle aggressive dogs.

Officer Tactics When Confronted by Dangerous/Vicious Dogs
1. When confronting a dangerous or vicious dog which threatens bodily injury to the officer or citizen:

  • a. Exhaust all reasonable means to confine the dog.
  • b. Notify the SPCA to pick up the dog.
  • c. The use of department issued chemical irritant or the X26 Taser is effective on many animals.12.115 Revised 05/29/12, Replaces 07/13/10.
  • d. When use of the firearm is absolutely necessary, avoid shooting the dog in the head.
    1) Once the firearm is discharged, the officer will comply with Procedure 12.550, Discharging of Firearms by Police Personnel.
    a) Obtain the name and address of the owner/harborer of the dog.
    b) Obtain the name and address of any witness to the incident.
    c) Notify the SPCA to pick up the dead dog pending a later examination by the Health Department.
    d) Complete a Form 316, if applicable.

9 On Your Side asked the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office for reports involving deputies and aggressive animals. However, in response to our open records request, we were told there is not way for them to search and locate reports involving encounters with dogs.

Next page: Read a breakdown of the last six police/dog shootings in Cincinnati:

A breakdown of the last six police/dog shootings in Cincinnati:

3/19/2012 CRESTLINE AVENUE
DOG'S OWNER: Karen Burke
OFFICER: Hollis Hudepohl
SHOTS FIRED: 1 shot fired and take effect
INCIDENT
*Officer responds to call of two pit bulls roaming neighborhood.
*Growling dog aggressively charges officer.
*Officer fires once into the dog's abdomen, dog is wounded.
*Both dogs retreat to the fenced yard.
*SPCA comes and transports the two animals.
*Owner is issued a Form 15 DIH, Notice of Impoundment and Hearing.
*Inspections Section Commander determines officer was in compliance with policy, procedure, training and state law.

6/29/2012 BEECH HILL AVENUE
OWNER: Carlos Richardson
OFFICER: Sabren Robinson
SHOTS FIRED: 4 Shots fired, 2 take effect.
INCIDENT
*Officer responds to call of aggressive pit bull.
*Officer sees dog in yard and requests SPCA assistance, second dog appears from under "improperly secured fence."
*Both dogs aggressively advance towards officer, cause her to retreat behind her police cruiser.
*Dogs lunge at officer, she fires 4 times hitting one of the dogs twice.
*Both dogs retreat to yard, one wounded.
*Owner is cited for a violation of CMC 701-4, Dangerous Dogs to be Properly Confined.
*Officer Robinson cleared after review.

7/11/2012 CLEVELAND COURT
OWNER: Ronnell Brown
OFFICER: Aaron Layton
SHOTS FIRED: 6 Shots fired, 6 take effect
INCIDENT
*Officers respond to apartment after call of Ronnell Brown is bit by a dog and "feeling like he was going to pass out."
*Cincinnati Fire Department sees large Bull Mastiff dog through apartment window and sees Brown unconscious will lots of blood.
*Officer Layton fires through the window and hits dog 3 times.
* Dog retreats to the kitchen, officers enter apartment, dog charges again and is hit with 3 shotgun blasts.
*Sixth round kills dog.
*Brown, the owner dies from wounds.
*Officers cleared.

3/18/2013 LOTH STREET
OWNER: Unknown
OFFICER: Gary Johnson
SHOTS FIRED: 1 shot fired, 0 take effect
INCIDENT
*Officer responds to call of two aggressive pit bulls roaming neighborhood.
*Dogs move towards officer, he fires into hill hearing attack.
*Neither are hurt, SPCA comes to take them into custody.
*Officer is cleared.

4/24/2013 4239 ERIE AVENUE
OWNER: Christopher John Servizzi
OFFICER: Patrick Caton
SHOTS FIRED: 2 shots fired, 2 take effect
INCIDENT
*Sergeant Caton serves warrant on Servizzi, is warned he may have weapons and there are dogs at the residence.
*Servizzi appears highly intoxicated and argues.
*Servizzi begins walking towards Caton with his unleashed dog, which has characteristics of a pit bull.
*Dog and owner get within 10 feet of officer.
*Servizzi says, "You wanted trouble, now you got it."
*Dog continues towards officer in aggressive manner, Caton pulls gun from holster and warns owner to call dog off.
*Dog bites Caton's sleeve, Caton fires two shots into dog's back, dog falls down and dies.
*Review finds Taser gun was not considered a viable option because of suddenness of attack.
*Review finds tactical issues with Caton's approach to the scene, "Best practices" would suggest Caton call for officers to meet him before approaching the house alone, but the use of deadly force on the dog meets Department standards.

5/7/2013 HALLWOOD AVENUE
OWNER: Erick Day, 52, (513) 260-2734
OFFICER: Joehonny Reese
SHOTS FIRED: 9 shots fires, 5 take effect
INCIDENT
*Sgt. Brian Norris and Ofc. Reese are working off-duty detail for Somerset Apartments
*Small pit bull runs out from side of yard.
*Eric Day is walking tow large pit bulls southbound on Hallwood Avenue, both dogs on leash.
*One dog lunges to attack smaller one, breaks free from harness.
*Both dogs begin attacking little one, Sgt. Norris attempts to stop attack with a fire extinguisher.
*Fire extinguisher works, however, one dog turns and begins charging Norris.
*To help Norris, Reese opens fire nine times, hitting animal five times killing it.
*Day is charged with violation of 955.22, failure to confine pit bull.
*Michelle Lewis, owner of the smaller pit bull, is also cited.
*Day does not dispute his dogs attacked the smaller one, but doesn't think the officer needed to shoot one.
*Officer's actions cleared after review.

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