Commerce City, Colorado, has decided to pay about $260,000 to the owner of a pit bull/lab mix that was shot and killed by a police officer.
The landmark settlement, said to be the largest ever of its kind, and possibly precedent-setting for similar cases around the country, resolves a federal lawsuit that was scheduled for trial this month filed by the Animal Law Center in 2013.
“The payout ends years of legal battles between Gary Branson, owner of the mixed-breed therapy dog, and Commerce City’s police department,” the Denver Post reported about the $262,500 resolution of the dispute.
The incident started when Chloe the canine, age 3, who was being watched by a dogsitter for the owner who was out of state, wandered loose on November 24, 2012, and a neighbor called 911.
The animal control officer on the scene apparently had difficulty securing Chloe in a neck harness. Responding Commerce City officers Tased the dog twice, and then one of the officers opened fire with his department-issued handgun — shooting and killing dog — even though it appeared that the canine may not have been acting aggressively. The officer fired five shots at the dog in the incident.
The disturbing incident, which was captured on cell phone video, sparked a controversy in the Denver suburb and the surrounding area as to whether the cop acted disproportionately and prompted the Justice for Chloe movement on Facebook. “A neighbor recorded the incident and posted the video on social media, quickly sparking questions and anger from animal advocates and pet lovers,” the Denver Post noted.
Officer Robert Price was subsequently found not guilty of of aggravated animal cruelty, a felony, following an October, 2013, jury trial in Adams County. He was also cleared of any wrongdoing in the pit bull shooting in a police internal affairs investigation based on a determination that he was acting within departmental policy when he shot Chloe.
Commenting about the not guilty verdict, Jennifer Edwards, an attorney for the Animal Law Center (which is also based in suburban Denver) asserted that “It wasn’t surprising. I think the prosecutor’s office was pretty conflicted in this. At that point my client did not feel much vindication so the only thing left is to pursue a civil remedy,” CBS Denver explained.
About the huge settlement that to some degree will perhaps brings justice for Chloe, she observed that “It speaks volumes as to the fact that this isn’t going to happen and you’re not going to not be held accountable.”
“I am happy that we have been vindicated. [Chloe] deserved justice for what happened to her,” said owner Branson about the settlement. “This has been a very difficult time for me and am glad that it is now settled.”
“No amount of money could replace Chloe,” he added.
It turns out that Commerce City (via the taxpayer) only had to cut a check for $50,000 of the settlement amount, given that insurance covered the balance owed to the Benson family beyond the coverage deductible.
“Colorado civil law does not allow pet owners to recover losses for a pet that exceed its face value, but recent federal court cases citing violations of the Fourth Amendment, loss of property, have changed the landscape in pet law,” Fox 31 Denver explained about the developing case law that may have convinced the municipality to settle now rather than go to a full-blown trial over the fatal police shooting of Chloe the pit bull mix.
[image via Facebook]