COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - A Commerce City police officer is being charged with aggravated cruelty to animals in the shooting death of a dog last month.
Chloe was a pit bull mix who got loose from a dog sitter on Nov. 24. Police were responded to the scene after a 911 caller reported an aggressive pit bull loose in the neighborhood.
Officers tried to find a person responsible for the dog for 20 minutes before deciding the dog needed to be caught and taken to the animal shelter. When officers approached Chloe, they said she continued to be aggressive.
Neighbors watched the whole thing unfold and one recorded a video that went viral online. It shows an animal control officer putting a catchpole around Chloe's neck and an officer shooting her twice with a stun gun. Finally, an officer comes from behind and fires five shots.
Chloe died. Residents protested.
“The dog was not aggressive like the police report says,” said resident Lorena Rose. “I mean that is something anyone can see.”
Commerce City police said the shooting was justified, but stated they would open an investigation into the matter after the video became public.
On Thursday, 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 said after the announcement that Officer Price has been placed on paid administrative leave. The others involved in the incident are not currently on patrol, Commerce City police said.
The city released the following statement in response to the District Attorney’s report:
“Commerce City places the highest value on the safety and well being of our community, its people and their property. This was a tragic event and our thoughts have been and continue to be with the owner during this difficult time. We want to thank District Attorney Don Quick and his staff for conducting an impartial investigation. Out of respect for the employee’s right to a fair trial and the integrity of the judicial process, it is not appropriate for us to comment or speculate on the DA’s investigation.
As a result of the charges filed, the officer has been placed on administrative leave. The city asked the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to complete the administrative review to determine if any city policies were violated. Commerce City is committed to making sure our employees are well trained and prepared to respond to unpredictable emergency situations, while ensuring the safety and well being of our community. We look forward to Douglas County’s objective conclusions and will work with the incoming police chief to take the appropriate next steps to positively move the police department forward and prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”
Price is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 24. If convicted of the class 6 felony, Price could face 18 months to three years in prison.
He does not have to return his weapon while on leave since it was not department issued.
Chloe's owner, Gary Branson, is glad to hear of the charges against Price.
"I'm glad they made the decision they did," Branson said. "I wasn't really surprised, kind of knew that it would take some time ... it brings some closure to me, yes it does."
He said Chloe was not aggressive. He said Chloe craved attention, and the more attention she received, the happier she was.
7NEWS took the video of the dog shooting to an expert on dog behavior and aggression.
"The dog is trying to get away," dog expert Vicky Kirkland concluded. "There's no threatening postures here from the dog."
While Chloe's face can't be seen in the footage, Kirkland says the dog's body language showed she was afraid.
Commerce City police went through training on how to handle dangerous dog situations after another dog was killed by a Commerce City officer in 2010.
Branson's cousin, who was watching Chloe, was charged with numerous violations, including possessing a vicious animal and violating the city's pit bull ban. The woman had left her home but didn't realize the dog managed to get out as she drove away from her garage.