A Maryland jury awarded a family $1.26 million Tuesday after deciding a cop wrongly shot and killed their dog, Vernon, on February 1, 2014 – the largest award in American history for such a case.
“The verdict sends a strong message to the police about community expectations,” attorney Carl J. Hansel said after the verdict, according to the Capital Gazette.
“The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well.”
However, the Anne Arundel County Police Department had already determined the shooting was justified, claiming the dog was aggressive, which made the cop fear for his safety.
But the evidence proved otherwise, which is why the jury ruled against the officer.
Hansel called the shooting of Michael Reeves’ dog by Anne Arundel County cop Rodney Price “senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
During the three-day trial, officer Price admitted the dog did not bite or injure him before he fired two shots, one entering the dog’s sternum and another shot through his side when the dog’s body was perpendicular to Price’s gun.
Hansel stated a necropsy performed after the shooting contradicted Price’s testimony regarding how the shooting occurred.
Price, a one-year veteran, was investigating a burglary at the time, canvassing the neighborhood looking for witnesses around 4 p.m., when a male Chesapeake Bay retriever “confronted” the officer in Reeve’s front yard, according to police.
Vern barked and ran towards Price.
Price then fired two shots at Vernon, killing the dog.
Officer Price visited the Reeve’s family a few days after the shooting to explain what happened.
Former Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis, met with the Reeves family, promised a full investigation into the shooting and offered his condolences.
The internal investigation exonerated officer Price, finding the dog was aggressive.
During the trial, the jury was asked specifically if the dog attacked Price.
The jury determined Price was not attacked by the dog and found the shooting was not only committed with gross negligence, but also violated Reeves’ constitutional rights.
The $1.26 million verdict by the jury includes $500,000 in monetary damages for causing Reeves to miss a significant amount of time from his job as a defense contractor.
In addition, Reeves was awarded $760,000 in damages for mental anguish.
Anne Arundel County officials declined to comment on the verdict.
Rodney Price is still an officer with the Anne Arundel Police Department.
According to an estimate by the Department of Justice, police shoot about 10,000 dogs each year in the United States.