CrimeSceneInvestigation

A truly sad and tragic even took place in Arlington, Texas today. Arlington police officials are reporting an officer accidently shot and killed a woman while shooting at her dog that was charging at the officer.

Early reports indicate an Arlington police officer was responding to a “welfare check” call regarding a person passed out in a grassy area.

As the officer approached the woman, an unrestrained dog began barking and charged toward the officer. In response to the dog, the officer fired his weapon several times, inadvertently striking the woman in the background. She later died.

According to police, the incident was captured on the officer’s body camera, which will be reviewed.

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It’s hard to imagine a much more tragic scenario than the one described above. There’s no way you can make this incident easy to stomach. Having been a police officer in neighboring Dallas, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with aggressive dogs, close calls, and have known officers who were forced to shoot dogs.

I knew one officer who waited so long to shoot, the dog was able to bite the gun and the officer’s hand.

Despite what critics say, officers don’t enjoy shooting dogs. Nor do they enjoy being bitten or hurt by one either. It’s a no-win situation really.

Immediately, the comments on social media ask valid questions, “Why not use mace or a taser?”

I’m no expert on proper use of force against dogs. I imagine mace or a taser could work on dogs, just like they work on people. Though people unfamiliar with tasers likely don’t realize you need to have two prongs hitting the intended target to have a “connection” which is what makes the taser effective.

Hitting a small target like the chest of a dog charging at you would likely prove difficult. Hitting the dog with one prong will do nothing at all. Mace may work too. Or, despite the mace, the dog could keep coming and latch on. What should have been done, versus what happened, it’s all speculation at this point. Something I’m trying to avoid yet be reasonable in my assessment of this tragedy.

In any scenario, multiple factors and all options of force must be considered immediately by a police officer. However, they must make these assessments and decisions as they are happening, not always an easy task. Unfortunately for police officers, that’s the job. Split second decisions. No “do-overs” or second chances.

Seeking a legal opinion regarding this tragedy, I spoke with Tom M. Thomas II, a Dallas area attorney who is also a former police officer, he stated, “Accidents that occur under emergency circumstances do not often rise to the level of criminal negligence, especially in cases involving first responders who are attempting to protect themselves or the public from harm. This is where prosecutorial discretion is warranted.”

It can only be assumed charges of negligent homicide or manslaughter will be considered. This is where waiting for all the facts is important. Factors such as, the demeanor of the dog, the reasonable alternatives available to the officer, for example, must be considered when looking at this incident legally and objectively.

We haven’t seen the video, so opinions regarding “what should happen” to the officer, without the facts are without merit or objectivity.

I preach constantly about waiting for the all the facts before rushing to judgement. As such, I will do so in this case.

That doesn’t mean I’m “taking the officer’s side” or “backing police officers unconditionally.” Quite the opposite. I’ll be the first to call out a “bad” officer or one that acts criminally or improperly. I’m simply saying, I will wait to see the video, before I call for the officer to be fired or sent off to prison.

If the video is released and the prosecutor’s office deems charges are appropriate, I will certainly accept that. You won’t see me calling for protests, suggesting we riot, or storm the District Attorney’s office demanding they change their mind.

Justice should be applied equally and fairly, whether it involves a police officer or not. Being held to a higher standard regarding their conduct, doesn’t change their legal culpability or negate their Constitutional rights.

The presumption of innocence and due process apply to everyone in this country, even on-duty police officers.

A truly tragic story, I wish I wasn’t writing about.

The Officer Next Door

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