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Case over police killing pets headed to court

Darcy Spears

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Case over police killing pets headed to court

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jan 9, 2014

North Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- North Las Vegas Police officers who killed a family's two dogs will have to answer for their actions in court.

It's a case the family's been fighting for six years. Contact 13 began investigating in November.

"They shot my babies, and they had no right to."

That was Louisa Thurston in 2008 after North Las Vegas S.W.A.T. killed her dogs, Bruno and Blue, while serving a search warrant at the family home.

The tears haven't stopped flowing as she recalls that February night.

"Here they come carrying my Bruno out, and dropped him on the ground, opened up the truck and just tossed him in there. Same with Blue. Her whole face was gone."

Thurston filed a lawsuit against the City of North Las Vegas, their police department and individual officers, but a federal district court judge dismissed the case.

Thurston appealed.

"There's a constitutional right under the 4th amendment to insure that the dog's life is protected," said Thurston's attorney, Cal Potter.

In a just-released ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, judges found, "The district court improperly ruled that the S.W.A.T. team officers acted reasonably, in shooting Thurston's pet Pit Bull and Mastiff."

"What they did was not right," Thurston said.  "It could have been prevented. They could have let me take them outside.  They could have let me put them in a room."

Court records show police waited 20 minutes after entering the home before firing on the dogs.

"I begged them, please, let me put them up, please!" Thurston recalls.

Thurston and her daughter were zip-tied within a few minutes and escorted out of the house shortly thereafter.

The appeals court said it's reasonable to infer that "officers had enough time to observe the dogs' behavior and summon Animal Control specialists before the alleged attack occurred, which speaks directly to the reasonableness of the officers' conduct."

Did North Las Vegas officers tell the truth when they said the dogs attacked? 

The appellate court ruling questions that, saying "There is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the dogs attacked" at all. 

North Las Vegas Police won't comment for this story because the case is still ongoing.

Thurston testified "that her dogs were not aggressive."

"My dogs weren't harming anybody.  They were sitting there wiggling their tails."

One of the officers testified that department policy dictates attendance, if not participation, of an animal control officer whenever police know there are dogs present inside a home.

We asked North Las Vegas Police Officer Chrissie Coon about that in November.

Darcy Spears: Do they bring an Animal Control officer in case there is a dog so that that can be avoided?
Officer Coon: Well, in situations where they have the opportunity to do that, they can, but we're not gonna send an Animal Control officer into a S.W.A.T. situation.

Over the past two years, North Las Vegas Police have shot 19 dogs, 15 of them died.

Bruno and Blue are just two reasons State Senator David Parks is working with Nevada Voters for Animals to draft a new law that would require better training for officers to recognize typical animal behavior and avoid deadly force.

Louisa is digging in for the next step in her fight for justice for her beloved Bruno and Blue.

"I will keep on and keep on and keep on, whatever I gotta do."

Her attorney, Cal Potter, said "The Ninth Circuit has allowed Ms. Thurston the opportunity to prove that North Las Vegas Police Department cannot summarily shoot dogs while executing search warrants."

The case is now cleared to enter the discovery phase and be set for trial. 

Contact 13 will be following it all the way.

For more information on the proposed new law and to help support it, go to the Nevada Voters for Animals Facebook page.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.