ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. - The Adams County district attorney says he will not charge a deputy who shot and killed Ziggy the dog while responding to a burglar alarm because the evidence supports the two deputies' accounts that the dog aggressively attacked the deputy.
This contradicts dog owner Jeff Fisher's account that the deputy needlessly killed his friendly dog, firing from 15 to 20 feet away, District Attorney Dave Young wrote in a decision letter to Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr.
Fisher told 7NEWS he watched as Deputy Wilfred Europe III shot Ziggy, an 8-year old blue heeler/border collie mix, outside his workshop on Jan. 14.
"He (Ziggy) ran past the police officer at the door and he just wanted to see who it was and the police officer shot him three times," Fisher said. "He killed my dog for no reason, no reason at all."
But the district attorney said there was insufficient evidence to charge Europe with aggravated cruelty to animals, which requires proof that the deputy "knowingly and needlessly" killed the animal.
After reviewing police reports, recordings of witness interviews, diagrams and video recordings of the scene and a necropsy report, Young said he found there was no justification to charge Europe nor a reasonable likelihood of succeeding at trial.
The prosecutor noted that Europe and a Deputy Slaters were responding that night on a burglary alarm triggered at Thoutt Brothers Concrete Contractors at 5460 Tennyson St.
-- Deputies respond to burglary alarm with guns drawn --
In keeping with department protocol, the deputies had their guns drawn as they circled outside the concrete company building, checking exterior doors, Young wrote. The deputies then began to check a building on the north side of the company's complex.
The building turned out to be Fisher's workshop, which he leases from Thoutt Brothers.
Europe told investigators he found an unlocked door in the workshop building and opened it. Both deputies said they heard noises inside the building and they identified a man moving and a dog barking, Young wrote.
Europe pulled the door closed, but the man, later identified as Fisher, "immediately reopened" the door, Young wrote.
The deputies held Fisher at gunpoint at the open doorway, commanding him to stop, the prosecutor wrote.
Ziggy, described in the report as a medium-sized black-and-white dog, ran past his owner through the open door.
"The dog ran directly at Deputy Europe, who retreated approximately 20 feet from the west-side door to get away," Young wrote.
Europe kicked at the dog in an unsuccessful effort to "deter its aggressive behavior."
"As the dog persisted to charge at him," Europe fired twice at Ziggy, hitting the dog once and killing it, Young wrote.
-- DA: evidence supports deputies' account of shooting --
The district attorney cited "significant discrepancies between the deputies' version of events and that of the dog owner, Jeff Fisher.
"The deputies were consistent in their statement of the facts that led to the shooting of the animal -- both said they were prepared to confront an intruder with their handguns drawn when the dog charged Deputy Europe in an aggressive manner and persisted in that attack," Young wrote.
Both deputies described Europe's retreat and his "attempt to use less lethal force by kicking the dog," Young said.
In contrast, Young wrote that Fisher characterizes Deputy Slater as "invading his home and sticking a gun in his face, after which Deputy Europe executed his rather 'friendly' dog from a distance of 15 to 20 feet without any justification."
However, the district attorney noted that "the facts and the evidence from the scene appears to corroborate the deputies' version of events."
Young stressed that the dog was shot once in the upper back with the bullet entering the dog at a 43-degree angle.
-- Dog shot at close-range --
The bullet's path and impact indicated that "the dog was shot in close proximity as it tried to bite Deputy Europe, as opposed to Mr. Fisher's statement that the dog was shot multiple times from a distance of 15 to 20 feet," Young wrote.
The necropsy performed on the dog found signs of blunt force trauma to the front of Ziggy, Young wrote.
"Such evidence is consistent with the deputies' statements that Deputy Europe kicked the dog in an effort to prevent an attack, and it is certainly inconsistent with the theory that the dog was kicked after being shot as bruising would not be present after the death of the animal."
The district attorney concluded he could not meet the burden of proof to show Europe needlessly killing the dog, which would be required to prove a crime of aggravated animal cruelty.
Europe, 31, was removed from patrol duty after public outcry over the shooting. It's not clear when he will return to patrol duty.
-- Deputy Wilfred Europe's history --
On Feb. 26, 2012, Europe was on-duty when he shot and killed a man who allegedly lunged for a gun -- later identified as a pellet gun -- during a traffic stop.
In May 2012, the independent Adams County Critical Incident Team ruled the deputy was justified in shooting and killing 40-year-old Don Alan Cambron.
"The prosecution could not disprove that Deputy Europe reasonably believed that there was a credible and life threatening circumstance endangering him and his fellow officers," according to the shooting review report issued by then-Adams County District Attorney Don Quick.
In 2001, a 20-year-old Europe was charged with unlawful discharging a weapon and possessing an illegal knife in Denver, court records state.
A case summary shows he entered a guilty plea on Dec. 12, 2001, and was sentenced to six months unsupervised probation.
Europe had a deferred sentence hearing, which allows a defendant to clear their record if they avoid new violations. Both charges were dismissed by the court on June 6, 2001, court records state.