Dog shooting update: Lawsuit filed against cop found not guilty, Commerce City
Immediately afterward, Gary Branson, owner of Choe, the dog that was killed, said he would likely file a civil lawsuit in the case, and he was as good as his word. Continue for our interview with Branson's attorney, who offers her take on the verdict and what she sees as a search for justice.
As we've reported, Chloe, described as Branson's therapy dog, was being temporarily kept at a house in Commerce City when she snuck out of the garage. A neighbor, Kenny Collins, called the authorities and recorded law enforcers' actions on a cell-phone camera. The video he shot shows Chloe being tased by a policeman and snared on a catch pole by a community service officer -- the equivalent of animal control in Commerce City. But the policeman, subsequently identified as Price, felt Chloe remained out of control and fired his weapon multiple times, shooting and killing her.
Prosecutors in Adams County subsequently charged Officer Price with animal cruelty. But despite the video evidence, which the thousands of folks on the Justice for Chloe Facebook page see as irrefutable, Price was ultimately cleared of the charge.
A screen capture from Kenny Collins's video, which can be seen below.
Like Branson, who she represents, attorney Jennifer Edwards of the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center was very unhappy about the decision.
"Justice was not gained with the criminal case," she says. "Mr. Branson would have been able to get restitution or some sort of level of justice had there been a guilty verdict. We were headed in the direction of a civil suit even before the not-guilty verdict was handed down, but that definitely sealed its fate."
Edwards was also displeased with Commerce City's lack of outreach after the jurors weighed in: "They've had no contact with us. They didn't try to get in touch with Mr. Branson or his counsel to rectify the situation or to apologize. There's been no effort to correct this wrong."
Although Edwards disagrees with the verdict, she believes "there were a lot of very good reasons" that the jury acquitted Price. In her view, "there were a lot of things missing" from the prosecution's presentation "that should have been put on as evidence -- particularly the necropsy report and a lot of the scientific evidence they had at their disposal that wasn't used. They could have used a more enhanced video, too -- and they didn't call a use-of-force expert or an animal behaviorist to give a voice to what was happening to Chloe during the incident."
Still, Edwards thinks the most important factor in the loss was the judge's jury instructions regarding "choice of evils.... Basically, it meant that even if Officer Price was completely mistaken in his assumption that he was choosing the lesser of two evils" by shooting Chloe, "he could still be found not guilty. That was a very bad thing for the prosecution."
A photo of Chloe with her best friend, Jack, from the Justice for Chloe Facebook page.
As for the civil suit, it's been filed in federal district court for Colorado and names Price, community service officers Arica Bores and Christopher Castillo, plus Commerce City itself, for what Edwards considers "very appropriate reasons. There was a prior dog shooting there in 2010," involving a police officer and a dog named Zoey, "so they were very well aware there was a potential problem. But they didn't put any new policies or procedures in place, and even though they did do training, we discovered through our depositions that the officers thought it was a joke -- they didn't take it seriously.
"Commerce City has done nothing to rectify the shooting of Zoey in 2010, and as a result, the shooting of Chloe happened in 2012," she argues.
The suit is intended to "send a message," Edwards goes on. "We now have the Dog Protection Act in this state, which is wonderful, and we'll have some mandatory training. But cities need to develop policies and procedures for dog encounters."
More immediately, though, "we're just looking for justice for Chloe," she says. "And I know there are a lot of people in Colorado, and a lot of people outside Colorado, who want the same thing."
Continue for our previous coverage of the not guilty verdict in the shooting of Chloe in Commerce City, including photos and video.