Was the police shooting of a dog in Adams Morgan justified?

Adams Morgan Day is a festival held in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC which is best known for lots of bars, lots of drunks, and vomit and trash all over the place. Shockingly, though, if you ever walk through on a weekend morning, it’s quite lovely. However, it is one of those neighborhoods I do my best to avoid (especially on certain weeknights and weekends) because of the high volume of people, and of drunk people, and of loud drunk people. In any case, as I had to work, I skipped Adams Morgan Day. 18th Street was closed for several blocks, and a little after 1pm, MPD officers shot a dog.

Exciting!

Exactly what happened isn’t known. There are lot of different accounts. You should read them:

The Washington Post: Police fatally shoot dog at Adams Morgan festival.
DCist: Police Shooting at Adams Morgan Day, Dog Killed
DCist: Spokesperson – “Policeman Knocked” Owner Off Dog Before Detaining, Shooting It
TBD.com: Cop shoots, kills dog during Adams Morgan festival
City Paper: Why Did Police Shoot A Dog in Adams Morgan?

All of them seem to share this:

-Aaron Block, either the dog’s owner or his caretaker, was walking Parrot, either a pit bull or a mixed-breed Shar-Pei.
-Parrot bit a poodle. (Or a poodle bit Parrot).
-Depending on what happened, the bitten dog — rightly — bit back.
-Block and the poodle’s owner struggled to separate the dogs.
-Having been separated, Block either did or did not have Parrot under control.
-MPD Officer Scott Fike got on top of Parrot to restrain the dog.
-Fike threw the dog into the staircase, and at some point shortly thereafter, shot it.

In addition to the quotes from witnesses on the scene in the papers, other people in the comment section of those areas have provided more feedback on what happened. While realizing that no source is impartial, and that ten people can watch the same thing happen and see ten different things, this struck me as authentic:

Almost Retired: The pit bull’s face was badly injured. Three people were holding it down. Several police came by. One officer in particular subdued the dog, although he was nervious about it. He asked other police officers to get people further back because he was having trouble controlling the dog. He was holding the dog’s face against the concrete and choking it. Another officer had his hand on his gun, and I knew what they were planning. At that point, my attention transferred to the dog’s care taker to see if he needed assistance as his hand was badly bitten – I don’t know from which dog. I then heard the shot (about 5 feet away from me). The care taker was shacking. I put my hand on his back and asked if the dog was his and if he needed assistance. He help protesting that he wasn’t the owner – that it was a “foster dog.” I felt that part of the reason the dog was shot was because no one would claim ownership.

Basically, what this boils down to is: did the police have reason to fear for the safety of the crowd?

Dogs can’t be reasoned with. They can’t be handcuffed. There are very few methods, that I am aware of, to subdue a dangerous animal other than lethal force.

Here’s how I look at it: what is more likely? Is it more likely that a trigger-happy cop (who happens to work with a K-9 unit) decided he wanted to shoot something, and Parrot provided him an excuse?

Or that an officer felt the owner couldn’t control the dog, and that, fearing for the safety of himself and others, he used lethal force before the dog could bite someone?

I have been bitten by dogs a couple of times. One instance in particular stands out in my mind. This was probably seven or eight years ago. I had parked at the Howard County library in Columbia to pick up some tax forms on my way to my parents’ house for dinner, and a black gentleman was walking a big black dog. I reached down to scratch its head, and it bit me. The dog didn’t break the skin, and the owner was extremely apologetic, but what I remember still is what he said: “This dog has never, ever, bitten anyone before!” (And, yes, I was at fault: I failed to ask if it was okay to pet the animal, and I may have startled it).

But I just keep going back to the statement by a spokesperson (either for Block, or Lucky Dog Animal Rescue): “He has never bitten another dog”. Yeah, until Sunday.

9 thoughts on “Was the police shooting of a dog in Adams Morgan justified?

  1. I struggled with this a lot. The crux of my problem is firing a weapon in the middle of a crowd — not that the police had to handle this situation.

    I, like you, don’t buy arguments like “the dog is friendly.” Who cares? Every dog bites someone for the first time. Further, the dog’s “handler” had only had this dog in his possession for a month. How could he possibly be capable of evaluating the dog’s personality? It was seriously irresponsible of him to bring a foster dog, of unknown history and temperament, into a big crowd.

    The question I have is, does the risk of shooting a gun around dozens of people outweigh the risk that the dog posed to the crowd.

    I am landing on the side of the cops on this one, and I don’t often do that. The policeman in question was apparently a very experienced and trained dog handler with the K9 unit. There would be few people better equipped to decide the best way to handle the situation.

    It seems pretty clear that the dog’s handler was injured and not in control. The dog had already caused harm to a person. When the cop threw the dog and shot it, I believe that he felt that he could no longer control the dog and it posed an imminent threat. This may have been his only reasonable option to protect the safety of all the people around from an enraged, dangerous animal.

    It is easy to dismiss this as an overreaction, but nobody else was in that cop’s shoes. What if he had chosen, instead, to try to capture and restrain the dog some other way, and it had gotten loose? There is no question that at that point, the dog was a loose cannon and anything could have happened.

    The police had a responsibility to protect the public, and they did that. It may not have been pretty, but had an alternate scenario played out, it could have resulted in great harm to people. We have to give the police some latitude. If this had been a human being, thrashing wildly with a dangerous weapon in a crowd, we would not have for a second questioned such a response.

  2. You missed a crucial question: Why didn’t the “owner” of the Shar-Pei mix have the dog leashed? This whole thing could have been avoided had the man heeded the D.C. leash law and leashed his dog aggressive dog. (And yes, look it up, Shar Pei’s are and are supposed to be dog aggressive, they were bred for dog fighting in China the same way Pit Bulls are.)

    My conclusion: The fosterer of the Shar-Pei mix decided the leash law didn’t apply to him and, as always happens, the unfortunate dog paid the price for his arrogance. I, for one, hope nobody ever gives him another dog to foster. Clearly, he is not up to the responsibility.

  3. Jamie – I’m surprised by how many people seemingly instinctively take an anti-police stance on this just, apparently, because, “Oh no, a dog got shot!” If only each shooting of a person got this much attention.

    K9 – I think the dog was on a leash, at least when the incident started. I believe one of the accounts I read stated that the leashes got tangled which made separating the animals difficult — maybe the leash became disconnected at some point?

  4. I look at this from the point of view of someone who’s spent a lot of time at dog parks in the past couple of years and a lot of obedience training with my own dog under professional trainers.

    I’ve separated scuffling dogs at parks quite a few times. Once you’ve done it, it’s not that scary, you just keep a cool head and don’t stick your hands in too soon or just any ‘ol where. The next thing you do, is get the dogs away from each other and the commotion.

    Anyone with the “least” bit of so-called canine behavior ought to know that a stranger wresting a dog from it’s owner and pinning it to the ground is going to escalate its emotions, fear, panic, not diffuse them.

    Now I could give the cop a break if the dept. and he himself (apparently to Aaron) had not described himself as a highly experienced K-9 handler.

    This was a forty pound dog, he looked quite subdued by the substantial officer Fike. K-9 handler? Can’t keep hold of a 40 lb. dog? BS. Throw him in the back of a police cruiser til animal control can take possession. They knew they were going to shoot the dog when they threw him in the stairwell, otherwise they would have been letting him loose unpredictably instead of controlling the situation.

    Now let me change up the scenario to put it in perspective–suppose this was a dog that had been hit by a car and Officer Fike, as the most “expert” K-9 first responder on the scene is asked to handle the dog (same emotional state, panic, fear, possible aggression as far as handling is concerned). Hmm, what to do? Throw the dog over a stairwell and execute it?

    Trust me, people who deal with dogs professionally everyday–vets, trainers, groomers manage to deal with emotionally charged dogs everyday without executing them.

    It’s not magic, this wasn’t a supernatural dog, with special killing powers–it was a dog, the kind of which someone with so-called dog expertise should be ashamed he couldn’t handle properly. Really? Really couldn’t handle a 40lb dog? How does he handle 80 to 90 lb. highly driven police dogs? But give an idiot a gun . . .

  5. One more point, I read the police report. The only human injury was an abrasion to Officer Fike. The dog’s foster parent Aaron was not bitten. It was a dog fight, not a dog attacking humans . . .

    Now whether the dog should have been out amongst dogs at a fair is another question . . . .

    But a dog is not a human wildly waving a gun, it’s a dog. But for some reason there is an almost hysterical fear in which people grant dogs some kind of super powers. It’s a dog, and only one dog, not a shark, not a human waving a gun, not a guy with a bomb strapped to his chest. When’s the last time you heard of lone dog going on a killing spree in a crowd?

    And yes people do have this reaction when people get killed, but there isn’t the opposition voice that goes “c’mon, it was just a black kid” . . .not out loud anyway.

  6. Theresa – Thanks for your comments!

    There was another human injury — Aaron Block. He claims he had his hand in the dog’s mouth and it was cut (sounds like a bite to me).

    Here’s what it comes down to, for me: the police officer had to make a decision – could he control the dog, and if he couldn’t, did it pose a danger to himself or others?

    If he didn’t feel he could control the dog — and comments in WaPo suggest that the officer told others he didn’t think he could — then he had to take action. He threw the dog down the stairs, maybe hoping the drop would incapacitate the dog. When it didn’t, he shot it.

    You bring up throwing it in the back of a police car — I wasn’t there, but it’s my understanding 18th Street was blocked off. Were cruisers parked in that area already, because I doubt one of could have been brought up quickly enough.

    I found this view of the incident (http://petstoreconfessions.blogspot.com/2010/09/dog-lover-says-justified-force.html) very interesting, particularly as its written by someone with experience handling large dogs.

  7. I’m not so sure–the blog you referred me to the person signs as k9 trainer, but then blog is called confessions of pet store employee, and self describes as kennel manager–they sell puppies.

    After a bunch of big talk about, “have you ever been faced with dealing with a very large angry dog, I have” goes on to tell a story about picking up the dish of a dog she knew . . . . (presumably a dog with a resource guarding problem . . . but another behavioral issue entirely) . . . not a me and my dog were attacked by a loose St. Bernard, or I was training a Personal Protection dog for a client and . . . it was coming up the leash at me . . . I’m just an ordinary pet owner and I have more hair-raising stories of dealing with dogs at the dog park or loose dogs coming at my dog while we’re walking . . .but I digress . ..

    I’m sure this person has a good deal of canine knowledge and she’s right that Aaron Block may not have been using best judgement in taking his dog out that day–very easy to see in retropspect since something went wrong.

    But, I stand by my statement that this could have been resolved without a gun and without injury to human or animal or the department’s image. Parrot was not a “very large” dog– 40 lbs. Officer Fike took responsiblity from the time he decided to take control of the dog and his actions resulted in escalating the dog’s arousal (rather than diffusing it) that led to his (was it quick-thinking or hasty?) decision to dispatch the dog. I guess if I had not been told by reports he was “a very experienced K-9 handler”, I’d look at the story a little bit differently . . . .

    As far as whether a police cruiser could have been summoned in time . . . I dunno, I’m sure three or four would have been on the spot in a minute, blocked off street or not, if a man needed to be put in one . . . but perhaps that was me thinking outside the box.

  8. Theresa, thanks for the continued commentary!

    Here’s what it comes down to for me — from what I’ve read, Officer Filke doesn’t (at all) appear to be a psychopath in a police uniform on a power trip. Therefore, I have to come to the reasonable conclusion that the officer had, for whatever reason, the belief that Parrot could not be continually restrained, and that Parrot posed a danger to himself or others. That’s the point, for me, when the shooting becomes justified: a reasonable belief, based on his experience, and based on what he witnessed*, that people’s safety was in jeopardy.

    I will admit, right up front, that I think police should do far more to non-lethally restrain a human being than they should an animal — I mean, to a point: if the guy’s going to shoot somebody and you’re out of taser range, shoot the guy.

    I sort of feel about Parrot like I do about the tiger out in California the cops had to shoot: it wasn’t the tiger’s fault. It was being taunted. It got out of its enclosure and it did what instinct drove it to do. But at the same time, you can’t reason with an angry tiger, and you can’t cross your fingers and hope it’ll stop mauling people. The situation was the fault of the kids’ taunting the animal, and the Zoo not properly fencing the enclosure: but the tiger had to pay the price.

    I attach no blame to the dog itself: it was in a crowded environment, it may have been attacked, and it defended itself. It’s very sad that the dog is dead, but I think the MPD acted appropriately.

    *There was an eyewitness account, I think in WaPo (I think it’s linked in my main post), that Block was initially claiming the dog wasn’t his when the police intervened. That may have contributed to Filke’s thought process.

  9. Why the shark hate? I guess it’s OK to kill a shark if it’s swimming towards you, but not OK to shoot the fuzzy-wuzzy 40lb killer attack dog?

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