BRIGHTON, Colo. - An Adams County jury found Commerce City Police Officer Robert Price not guilty of cruelty to animals and aggravated animal cruelty in the shooting death of a dog last year.
When the verdict was read Wednesday afternoon, Price removed his glasses and wiped away tears.
"He's relieved," Price's defense attorney, Don Sisson, said outside court. "It's not easy to live with that kind of gray cloud over your head for over a year as a police officer."
The verdict also clears the path for Price, who's been on administrative leave since December, to return to work.
Price pleaded not guilty after shooting Chloe, a pit bull mix, that got loose from a dog sitter on Nov. 24, 2012. The officer had responded after a 911 caller reported an aggressive pit bull loose in the neighborhood.
On the day of the shooting, officers said they spent 20 minutes trying to find a person responsible for the dog before deciding the dog needed to be caught and taken to the animal shelter. When officers approached Chloe inside an open garage, they said she continued to be aggressive.
Neighbors watched the encounter and one recorded a video that went viral online. It showed a female animal control officer put a catchpole around Chloe's neck and then struggle to control the dog. One police officer shot Chloe twice with a stun gun in the driveway. Finally, Office Price came from behind and fired five shots at the dog.
Chloe died. Hundreds of residents protested.
"I respect the jury's verdict," District Attorney Dave Young said in a written statement. "These are very difficult cases for prosecutors to handle. We presented all the evidence to the jury, including the video of the shooting, and the jury based its verdict on that."
Defense attorney, Reid Elkus, said, "The jury found (the shooting) was self-defense -- or defense of others."
After 40 minutes of closing arguments, the case went to the jury just before noon Wednesday.
During the closing arguments, attorneys focused on the videotape of the shooting and the moments leading up to it.
"This is a trial about accountability," Adams County prosecutor Ed Bull told jurors. "Did that dog have to die that day? No. The evidence shows that."
Prosecutors said the officer's incident reports of the shooting contradicted the video.
Bull held up a DVD containing the shooting video and Price's incident reports and said, "When you take the two and you compare them, they don't match."
Prosecutors showed jurors Price's incident report on the shooting. "Went to door and pit bull charged at me in an aggressive manner," the officer wrote.
Prosecutor Corinne Magid added, "People would've thought (the shooting) was justified, but for the video."
But defense attorney Sisson countered that, "the video did not capture all of the events. Still photos clearly show the dog charging (the animal control officer)."
Sisson added that, "there are no aha moments" in the video that show Price engaged in wrongdoing.
"Robert Price is not a guy who consciously kills dogs for no reason," the defense attorney said.
Commerce City police said the shooting was justified, but stated they would open an investigation into the matter after the video became public.
Then-Adams County District Attorney Don Quick announced that after interviewing witnesses, reviewing the videotape and the 911 tapes, his office decided to charge Officer Robert Price with a class 6 felony.
According to the charge, Price knew he would kill the animal but it wasn't necessary.
Commerce City Police put Price on paid administrative leave. If he'd been convicted of felony aggravated animal cruelty, Price could have face 18 months to three years in prison.
With the criminal trial over, the police chief will now wrap-up an administrative review of the shooting.
Chloe's owner, Gary Branson, maintained the dog was not aggressive. He said Chloe was a therapy dog who helped him get active after he underwent bypass surgery. He said Chloe craved attention, and the more attention she received, the happier she was.
After the acquittal, Branson said the incident "could have been handled in a better way. They did have her on a catchpole. One of the officers could have gone over and helped the female (animal control) officer control the dog, if that was an issue. She'd still be here today."
Branson said he plans to see Officer Price in court again, after he files a civil lawsuit.