LOCAL RESIDENT FILES CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT AGAINST THE CITY OF HOLLYWOOD, CHIEF OF POLICE, AND OFFICER FOR KILLING DOG
The federal complaint, filed in the Southern District of Florida on June 13, 2016, seeks damages that could exceed $250,000 for the violation of Wilson Almendarez’s civil rights when a Hollywood Police Officer shot and killed his six-year-old dog, Missy.
Mr. Almendarez’s case is similar to the 2005 case of San Jose Charter of Hells Angels v. San Jose, where the City of San Jose, California, settled for $900,000 after a California court found that its police officers had not acted reasonably when they shot and killed dogs without considering a non-lethal method. Mr. Almendarez’s case is also similar to a more recent case in January of 2016, Branson v. Commerce City, where the City of Commerce, Colorado settled for approximately $262,000 when a police officer shot a tethered pit bull five times, killing the defenseless animal.
The federal complaint alleges that on January 23, 2015, Hollywood resident Wilson Almendarez was relaxing in his courtyard when it was suddenly infiltrated by police officers in tactical gear and a television film crew looking to capture real life action.
According to the investigative report, Hollywood Police Department received a confidential tip that a wanted felon, Francisco Quintana, nicknamed “Flaco,” may be at the apartment complex where Almendarez, his dog, Missy, and his roommate, David Jimenez, resided. Unknown to the Hollywood Police, Jimenez was also known by the nickname “Flaco,” and more importantly, Quintana was no longer a wanted felon, as he had been arrested the night before in Miami-Dade County. During the over-zealous raid Hollywood Police Officers arrested Jimenez, subjected him to intrusive finger printing, and shot and killed Almendarez’s dog, Missy. This display of unnecessary force on companion animals is becoming an all too common systemic “shoot-to-kill” problem in police forces throughout the country.
Despite the rising number of companion animal killings by law enforcement, dogs are not known for causing deaths in the police force. In fact, according to Webinar, “Officer Why Did You Shoot My Dog,” presenter, John Thompson, statistics show that over the past 50 years, the causes of officers killed in the line of duty are as follows: “4,143 killed by guns, 2 killed by bees, and one killed by a cow.” The Webinar, which is available for public viewing on YouTube, includes another shocking statistic from Department of Justice’s Laurel Matthews, “We estimate that 10,000 dogs per year are shot by U.S. law enforcement.” Matthews, who is the Supervisory Program Specialist with the Community Oriented Policing Services Office in Washington, D.C., described the increase in companion animal deaths as “an epidemic.”
One may ask why officers are prone to reach for the gun rather than other non-lethal alternatives. Thompson explains in the Webinar, it could be due to police culture and departmental polices; a lack of police training on dog behavior; or personal fear of the breed. “Fear of dogs is not reasonable justification for an officer to shoot and kill,” stated Jim Crosby, a canine aggression behavior expert and Division Chief of Animal Care and Protective Services in Jacksonville, Florida, “an officer is expected to handle threatening situations regardless of personal bias and fear.” Crosby, who is also a retired Police Lieutenant, explains that a well-trained officer faced with a reasonable threat may be justified with using lethal force, however “if a dog is running away then the threat is eliminated and the officer should not continue shooting. Is it worth the bullet ricocheting towards other officers or pedestrians? I think not.”
In Almendarez’s case, the Officers of the Hollywood Police Department interrogated residents for the location of “Flaco,” never once using the felon’s real name. Within minutes of learning that Jimenez was in his apartment, the officers had sealed off every avenue of escape, banged on the windows and door, and opened fire on Almendarez’s dog when she ran out of the apartment, terrified by the commotion. Missy was shot six times by a Hollywood Police Officer; three of her fatal wounds were inflicted on the back of her body as she attempted to flee to safety.
After reviewing public records from the Hollywood Police Department, Almendarez was shocked to discover that the officers in his City had shot and killed numerous dogs in the past few years, and even more disturbed to discover that the Officer who had his dog had also shot and killed someone else’s pet in its own home on January 22, 2014, almost exactly one year prior to fatally shooting Missy.
Almendarez’s federal complaint against the City of Hollywood states that it failed to set policies in place to protect the residential pets in its City; the Chief of Police failed to properly train its officers in dealing with non-violent companion animals; and the Officer involved failed to use any non-lethal alternatives.
Screenshots of the film crew’s broadcast material show Missy running past an officer and K-9 towards the exit, which was blocked by an officer who already had his service weapon drawn. The officer then opened fire on the terrified dog as she ran past, turning his body and following the fleeing dog. The officer shot Missy continuously in the back as she ran towards the safety of the courtyard. Missy died within feet of Apartment 10, a safe haven, where she would often spend the day with a neighbor while Almendarez was at work.
“The actions of the Hollywood Police Department demonstrated a pattern of negligence, hasty decisions, and an environment focused on made-for-TV-drama rather than the careful investigation expected by law enforcement,” stated Animal Law Attorney Heidi Mehaffey of Robert N. Hartsell P.A. “In short – this was not a reasonable raid premised on reliable information, but rather a performance hyped up on adrenaline that resulted in the cruel and unnecessary death of a defenseless animal.”
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Federal courts have determined that dogs are effects and thereby protected by the Fourth Amendment. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, a state may not deprive a citizen of his property without affording him due process of law. The destruction of a companion animal deprives the owners of their property without the due process they were entitled to.
Florida courts have long held that an owner has the “same right of action to recover compensatory damages for the intrinsic value, if any, of a dead dog wrongfully destroyed, that he would have for any other property wrongfully destroyed.” Levine v. Knowles, 197 So. 2d 329, 331 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1967).
Almendarez’s case has been assigned to Federal Judge Ursula Ungaro. The City of Hollywood was served with the lawsuit on June 15, 2016. The City is required to provide an answer to the court no later than July 6, 2016