Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sonoma, California

The owners of a dog that bit a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy have filed a complaint claiming that the dog should not have been shot to death by a Sheriff’s deputy during the incident.

Jackie Cohen, owner of pit bull mix named “Simon,” said she received confirmation of her complaint Saturday.

Simon bit Deputy Mike Shanahan as the deputy responded to a call of a domestic disturbance at the Ludwig Avenue house. Shanahan shot Simon five times.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brown said the dog was shot because it was a threat, “charging, barking, growling” while trying to bite the deputy.

But Cohen maintains Simon only bit the deputy because he perceived a danger to his family. She described him as sweet and friendly.

“He was my dream dog,” she said.

Cohen’s complaint alleges excessive use of force against her dog and her family and questions how the incident was handled.

“I was full of fear for my life and my dog’s life,” she said of the shooting. “I no longer feel like I could trust the police in any regard.”

According to Sheriff’s Department records, two deputies arrived at Cohen’s house on Ludwig Avenue in response to a report of a domestic dispute. An unidentified caller told dispatchers there was a loud verbal argument and that the caller feared for the woman’s safety, Brown said.

When the deputies walked up to a chain-link fence surrounding the property, a man yelled at deputies to wait, Brown said.

“A man yelled, ‘Hold on, we have dogs,’” said Brown, reading from a report on the incident.

The deputies entered the gate and told the man to hold the dogs. “They were told that if the dogs attacked they would have to shoot them,” Brown said.

Then two dogs, one with the appearance of a pit bull, charged Shanahan, biting his leg, locking on to it, and causing him to fall and break his other leg, Brown said.

Not so, said Cohen, who claims Simon “loped” toward Shanahan instead of charging. “This guy still had plenty of time to turn around and retreat and he made it so that Simon was between him and the exit,” Cohen said. “He was spraying pepper spray in his face.”

When it bit Shanahan, the dog immediately disengaged and did not lock on to Shanahan’s leg, Cohen said.

“It wasn’t like he grabbed him and started shaking him like a rag doll,” she said. “The deputy was flailing out of control. This man loaded five bullets into my dog.”

Cohen said Simon, a mutt with some pit bull in him, was protective of the family but an overall gentle dog. “A dog’s instinct is to protect and it doesn’t matter if it’s a teacup Chihuahua or a pit bull.”

“He protects our family, he protects our property. Everybody knows that. The PG&E lady doesn’t come over without checking. We have a gate that he pushes against and doesn’t get out,” Cohen said. “A dog’s instinct is to protect and it doesn’t matter if it’s a teacup Chihuahua or a pit bull.”

“He had the sweetness of a lab,” she said of the dog which she estimates was about one-fifth pit bull.

Sheriff’s Capt. Matt McCaffrey said a preliminary review of the incident indicates Shanahan acted appropriately. A formal investigation will now take place, he said.

“We are never happy when we have to shoot an animal, especially someone’s pet,” McCaffrey said. “But it was a dog that attacked and bit a deputy.”

Cohen said that Simon was buried beneath a peach tree at the family’s home.


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