Lawsuit accuses Detroit police of shooting 2 dogs at home

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Detroit pet owner is suing police over an encounter in which an officer shot both of her dogs, killing one of them.

According to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the unidentified officers went to Teresa Thomas’ home in the 2400 block of Beals on July 19 seeking a suspect whom they believed was there.

Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue tended to both dogs after the incident on July 19.

Thomas told the officers no one else was in the house, aside from herself and the two dogs, and told them they needed a search warrant, then closed the door, the filing stated.

One of the officers said he was going to search the house; Thomas repeated her warning, but he “grabbed the security door and yanked it open,” pulling the woman out because she had her hand on the door, according to the suit.

At that point, her two dogs, Tiny and Winter, went out of the front door and around the corner to their food bowls. The second officer shot at both animals, the lawsuit alleges.

When Thomas tried to help her wounded pets, the first officer laughed, the filing said.

A police supervisor asked the officer to leave, and Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue rushed the dogs to a veterinarian, according to the suit.

The rescue group reported in a Facebook post in July that Tiny suffered a bullet that moved near his spine and the other pet sustained a gunshot to her muzzle.

Tiny later died, while Winter survived, according to the lawsuit. 

Both dogs were rushed to a veterinarian.

The suit claims the officers, who did not find the suspect they sought, “had no training with respect to dog encounters” and the attempt to search Thomas’ home violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the government from unreasonably seizing property.

“Defendants’ acts described herein were intentional, grossly negligent, amounted to reckless or callous indifference to plaintiff’s constitutional rights,” the filing said. “... No exigent circumstances warranted the intrusion involved in this case.” 

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and attorney's fees.

Detroit Police Department representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

In a statement released to The Detroit News shortly after the incident, the department said officers had been responding to a report of shots fired on Beals, near Thomas’ home. 

Police said when they started an investigation there, two dogs ran in front of them. One charged at an officer, who fired two shots, striking both canines, according to the statement.

The Police Department said at the time that the incident would be investigated since it involved an officer using force. 

Chris Olson, the attorney representing Thomas, notes this case is only one case in which city officers are alleged to have shot dogs.

In 2016, he represented a Detroit couple that alleged three pets were fatally shot when police executed a search warrant. This year, the city agreed to pay about $60,000 to settle the lawsuit.

"Our city has a problem," Olson said.