A Virginia Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit judge reversed a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit involving the shooting of a beloved family pet by Augusta County Deputy Sheriff Michael Roane. The decision was a unanimous (en banc) reversal issued in a published opinion written by Chief Justice Gregory of the Fourth Circuit.
For the first time in this jurisdiction, the Fourth Circuit held that “it is unreasonable for a police officer to shoot a privately owned animal when it does not pose an immediate threat to the officer or others.” The court further held that “a reasonable officer in Roane’s position would have known that his alleged conduct was unlawful at the time of the shooting in this case.”
The plaintiff, Tina Ray, is an Augusta county resident who was arrested last year for misdemeanor domestic assault. During the arrest, Deputy Sheriff Roane arrived on the scene, drove past other officers already parked on Ray’s driveway, and parked his vehicle on Ray’s yard where she kept her dog, a German Shepherd named Jax.
Jax was secured on a zip line leash and had no incidents with other police. Upon Roane’s stepping onto the lawn, a frightened Jax approached the officer, barking, but was restrained by the leash. According to court documents, Roane took a step toward the dog, pulled his firearm, and shot Jax with a close-range shot to the head. Initially suspended, the Augusta County Sheriff’s Department later argued that its officer’s actions were “reasonable.”
“We are pleased that the Fourth Circuit reversed based on the law and facts,” Mario Williams, President of Nexus Derechos Humanos Attorneys, said. “Ms. Ray still has a way to go, but we will fight hard to vindicate her rights.”
The case was initially dismissed by United States District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillion, but the case has been on appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit until it was reversed this week. The case now returns to the District Court for trial.
“Finally, the 4th Circuit has said what we all know: that police have no business killing family pets,” Mike Donovan, President and CEO of Nexus Services, Inc. whose company funds Nexus Derechos Humanos, said. “I’m only saddened that the law only permits a civil remedy here. The officer should be prosecuted for animal cruelty. Jax was a part of Tina’s family, and Michael Roane’s irreparable act ripped that family apart. Not only should he be forced to pay, he should be removed from law enforcement privileges and be held accountable for his crimes.”