Officer Criticized In Pit Bull Shooting

Web Posted: 05/27/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Brian Chasnoff, Staff Writer

San Antonio Express

A San Antonio police officer, amid a confrontation with theft suspects at a West Side home Friday morning, shot dead a charging dog, but it wasn't the death of the pit bull that disturbed a bystander who witnessed the shooting.

According to Alison Reyes, a young boy was standing in a doorway about two feet from the pit bull when the dog left the porch and the officer fired too close for comfort, she said.

"They could have handled it different," Reyes said. "The child could've been shot."

A theft suspect also was standing in the doorway in the 100 block of Continental Avenue when the officer fired the shot, but a police spokeswoman stressed neither the boy nor the suspect were in the officer's line of fire.

"In this case, there was no one behind the target," said police spokeswoman Sandy Gutierrez. "They were at the doorway, off to the side."

Gutierrez would not release the name of the officer who fired the gun or any police report detailing the shooting because, she said, the report was "supplemental" and could not be made public.

A separate report, however, detailed the following:

Around 8:30 a.m., a theft occurred at the Easy Money Loan Services in the 7000 block of West Military Drive. Three suspects in the theft eventually were arrested on unrelated city warrants but had not been charged in the theft Friday.

Police got a license plate number and pursued a car to a home on Continental Avenue, Gutierrez said.

One of the suspects then walked outside and was arrested.

A second suspect appeared in the doorway, opening the door to release a beige and white pit bull. The dog began to charge, and the officer aimed at it and fired, killing the pit bull, Gutierrez said.

That officer was placed on administrative duty pending an investigation into the shooting, Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez would not specify the angle at which the officer was standing in relation to the dog or the trajectory of the bullet, but she reiterated that neither the child nor the suspect was in danger.

"Certainly (officers) take into consideration bystanders and innocent victims," Gutierrez said, "and in this situation they were not in the line of fire."

Thomas Aveni, a part-time police officer and co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council in Spofford, N.H., said the officer was justified in firing as long as the bystanders were not "directly behind or at a very shallow angle" to the officer's target.

As for the slain pit bull, Reyes disputed the claim that the canine appeared threatening.

"The dog came out not even barking," she said. "The dog was wagging its tail."

However, Aveni said the shooting was justified.

"Officers are allowed to dispatch vicious animals," he said. "I've had very small, seemingly innocuous dogs bite me on duty. I like dogs, but officers know full well how people have been mauled by pit bulls