Family demands change in policy after Pines officer shoots dog
(SUN SENTINEL) He has his own Facebook page, a family mourning him and a following of furious animal lovers.
Baxter, an Australian shepherd, died on March 19, three weeks after being shot by a Pembroke Pines police officer who said the dog charged him and his partner as they stood outside the family’s open front door.
The shooting has enraged neighbors and friends of the dog’s owners, Frank and Cindy Jones and their children, Bella, 18, Allie, 17, and Cameron, 13.
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“Everyone in the family has moments where they’re breaking down,” Cindy Jones said. “We wanted to do something to honor Baxter. We don’t want him to die in vain.”
And so on Wednesday night, nearly 200 people rallied outside City Hall to protest the Feb. 24 shooting. Shouting “justice for Baxter,” they held up posters that said “Protect, Serve, Kill?” and “Taber use a Taser.”
Police say Officer Nicholas Taber shot the 6-year-old dog after he charged at Officer Daniel Sammarco, a police trainee.
Taber fired at Baxter six times, hitting him three.
Police department officials have said the shooting was justified. The two officers had been called to the Lido Isles neighborhood in response to a neighbor’s complaint about a loose dog.
Baxter had gotten out of the house but had returned and was inside when the officers came to the door.
The officers spotted Cameron in an upstairs window and motioned for the boy to come downstairs.
Before Cameron could get out the front door, Baxter raced ahead and began barking at the officers.
Cameron told his parents that one of the officers told him: “Get your dog before I shoot it.”
The officers say they gave the boy “three loud verbal commands to detain the dog,” but Cameron says the shooting happened within seconds. He watched it all from the front door, screaming his dog’s name over and over as the shots rang out.
Frank Jones arrived within minutes and rushed the dog to the vet. After a week of intensive care, Baxter came home.
His family and his doctor expected him to make it.
But on the morning of March 19, the family found him dead on the family room floor.
Now they are asking why the officer didn’t use pepper spray or a taser before resorting to lethal force. More than 2,700 people have signed an online petition asking the Pembroke Pines Police Department to use other means when dealing with animals.
“The biggest question was why wasn’t a Taser used,” Frank Jones said. “And the answer is because it’s not policy. They do it with people. Why can’t they do it with animals?”
On Wednesday, father and son addressed Pembroke Pines city commissioners, who remained silent after City Attorney Sam Goren warned them to keep quiet because it’s a pending legal matter.
Cameron bravely told commissioners that he lost his brother and his best friend on the day Baxter died.
Frank Jones told commissioners he was not surprised the department had determined the shooting was justified — because they almost always are when a dog is involved.
“He was no dog to us,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “He was an amazing, amazing member of our family.”
On Friday, the family said they were still debating whether to hire an attorney.
“It’s been such a rollercoaster,” Cindy Jones said. “It’s been hard. We had him since he was 6 weeks old. We got him as a Christmas gift for the kids. We flew out to Texas and picked him up and brought him home. And we were in love with him ever since.”
Police Capt. Carlos Bermudez said he could not speak on the matter.
“We are not making any additional comments,” he said Friday. “Right now it’s a legal matter.”
Police shootings of dogs have made waves around the country, said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor with John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
And while many police agencies allow an officer to use deadly force on an animal if he fears he might get bitten, O’Donnell said “progressive departments” like the New York Police Department have prohibited shooting animals unless absolutely necessary.
“At NYPD, there were only 30 shootings of dogs last year out of 35,000 cops,” O’Donnell said. “They’re trying to get it to zero.”
Shooting an animal can lead to unintended consequences, O’Donnell said.
“The thing about firing a bullet, there’s no telling where it will go. You could miss. You could shoot a dog and kill your partner.”
The Jones family has created a Facebook page for Baxter (www.facebook.com/injuredbaxter), with a link to a touching video of his life, from puppyhood to loyal family dog.
The video shows him frolicking with his “brother and sisters” at the park and snuggling with them at home.
Baxter was by all accounts a good dog, his owners say.
No reports of aggressive or dangerous behavior have been made to Broward County Animal Care and Adoption, an official there said.
If only an animal care officer had been called to the scene, the outcome might have been different, the Joneses said.
“We are not sworn officers so we don’t carry guns,” said Lisa Mendheim, spokeswoman for the agency. “We would have a catch pole and a stun gun at most.”
Staff are also trained in animal handling and that includes dog body language, Mendheim said.
“Dogs are territorial,” Mendheim said. “They may bark to signal to the family that someone is here. The dog is trying to protect its family and its property. That’s a natural instinct for dogs.”