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Families can sue Las Vegas police over unlawful entry, excessive force

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Families can sue Las Vegas police over unlawful entry, excessive force

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 3, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Unlawful entry and excessive force. That's what three families can sue Las Vegas police officers for, thanks to an appeals court ruling handed down this week.

The case isn't just about people, it's also about police killing a family's pet.

Hazel was killed October 24, 2009.

Shot in the face by a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer, just feet away from her owner, inside her own home.

Action News spoke to owner Henry Rodriguez the day it happened and he said, "All the dog did was just saw them and started barking. They just shot her. She didn't even get near the cops."

READ: APPEALS COURT RULING (PDF)

According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the cops had no right to be in the Rodriguez home to begin with.

Police were responding to a report of suspicious activity near Rancho Drive and the U.S. 95 where there had been a pattern of burglaries, "When they entered plaintiff's home, without a warrant, looking for intruders, handcuffed and detained the teenage boys inside, and shot and killed the family dog," said E. Brent Bryson, the family's attorney, reading from court records.

Those records show "the boys were listening to music, watching TV and playing video games" when Metro Sgt. Jay Roberts entered the backyard.

He did not ask the boys any basic identifying questions, like "What are you doing here? Do you live here? What's your name? What's your parents' names?" said Bryson.

Instead, records show, "He pointed his gun at the head of one of the boys through the bedroom window and gave the boys conflicting commands."

"And the kids were lucky that none of them were shot under the circumstances," said Bryson.

Hazel wasn't so lucky.

Court records show, "Henry asked to be allowed to put away the family dog, but Sgt. Roberts did not allow him to do so."

"This was completely preventable," said Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals. "They could have easily secured that pet."

In the meantime, Officer Michael Dunn had entered the home. He "shot Hazel in the face," then handcuffed two of the teens. "Henry was ordered outside, but not cuffed until later, as he was carrying Hazel, who was bleeding to death."

"And everything that happened here would have never happened if Officer Dunn hadn't gone into the home illegally," said Bryson.

Records show, "Henry also asked an officer to call the animal hospital, but the officer said 'If you don't shut the (expletive) up, I'm going to let your dog die right there.'"

And Hazel did die shortly after Animal Control arrived at the house.

"That whole entire situation is so beyond tragic and my heart goes out to that family," Greisen said.

None of the family members or the boys were cited or charged with any crime, and Officer Dunn testified that the boys committed no crime.

Though the District Court in Nevada granted summary judgment in favor of Metro and its officers on all claims, the Appeals Court reversed claims for excessive force and unlawful entry, and remanded the case for trial.

Metro declined comment on the court ruling. 

Back in 2009, they said they feared for their safety because Hazel was acting aggressively. 

But 9th Circuit records say Sgt. "Roberts clear statement about the lack of any perceived threat best sums up the reality of that afternoon."

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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