The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month found in favor of police who broke into a home and killed two dogs. The officers had a search warrant. But a search warrant should not be a death warrant for innocent dogs.
The court tells the story mostly from the perspective of Christof Klein, a Battle Creek, Mich., police officer. Mr. Klein said he saw a “beware of dog” sign while approaching the house. He said he saw the dogs themselves barking in a window while he and his colleagues approached the home. And yet he broke down the door.
By the time the raid was over, Mr. Klein and his colleagues had killed both dogs. Mr. Klein said one was moving toward him when he shot her. The other, he said, was barking.
The 6th Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Eric L. Clay, ruled that killing a dog can violate the Fourth Amendment (search, seizure and probable cause), but that in this case, it didn’t. The question, the court said, was whether the dogs presented “an imminent threat to the officer’s safety,” as an “objectively reasonable officer” would have seen it given the circumstances. The judge found that killing the dogs met this standard. He’s wrong.
It is objectively unreasonable to say that a barking dog was a real threat to an armed police officer. That’s not an even match. The greater threat was not to the cops. And, to the extent that the dogs were a threat at all, this threat was created by breaking down the door — threatening the dogs and their territory.
The court should have demanded actual evidence that that was a reasonable decision. Instead, it relied on its own speculation about what might have happened if the officers had taken the time to find a way to protect the dogs — what they should have done.
Instead, the court set a precedent that will make it very hard for any other dog owner whose beloved pets have been killed in a search to argue that the police should have protected them. That makes this case, and this judge’s decision, a double outrage.