An unfortunate verdict was rendered for one dog owner just before the country celebrated the Fourth of July this year, when a Michigan court rendered a decision involving a pre-Independence Day party two years ago. The court's July 2, 2012 decision states that a Burton, Michigan, police officer is not at fault for shooting a pit bull when the animal reportedly charged and attempted to bite the officer.
On June 29, 2010, Police Officer Jeremy Driggett responded to the home of Billy Bateman after receiving a complaint about loud fireworks from one of Mr. Bateman's neighbors. Officer Driggett was accompanied by Paul Melrose, an aspiring law enforcement officer. The night in question was the only time either of the two men had ever been to Mr. Bateman's property.
According to the case file, Officer Driggett approached the house with Mr. Melrose following at a distance. The officer heard loud music, laughing, and talking coming from an open detached garage in the backyard. The door to the chain link fence surrounding the property was open. The officer shone his flashlight toward the garage and twice asked that the music be turned down and to speak with the homeowner, to which he received no response.
Suddenly, according to Officer Driggett and Mr. Melrose, Mr. Bateman's pit bull came charging out of the garage, growling and heading straight for him. The pit bull lunged for the officer and tried to bite him when the officer fired one shot, hitting the pit bull. Upon hearing the shot, Mr. Bateman emerged from the yard, angrily confronting Officer Driggett. The homeowner then gathered his gravely wounded dog and sped off. Though the pit bull received emergency medical care, he did not survive.
Was the officer justified in shooting the pit bull? Though Mr. Bateman, his wife, and guests all testified that the pit bull was friendly, playful, and did not bite, none of them were witness to the critical moments in the case when the pit bull allegedly charged the officer. No one in the home could rebut Officer Driggett and Mr. Melrose's statements that the pit bull was about to bite.
For many pet owners, a pet is far from just property, but is an emotional companion. The court recognized this in considering Mr. Bateman's Fourth Amendment claims stating that the officer had no right to take his pit bull. However, the court found that the officer's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances, as the pit bull was about to injure the officer and Mr. Melrose according to their side of the story, and they had been the only ones to witness the pit bull coming through the gate. Therefore the court had to accept the two men's account as true.
One moral of the story? Keep close tabs on your pets, just like you would do with your children. This is for the safety of not only your pets, but for others as well. Also make sure that your pet is secured and does not have open access to visitors. You never know who might be walking up. This is particularly important in the middle of parties and other celebrations, when you get distracted, get caught up in the fun, and want to leave your cares behind.
What are your thoughts about this situation?