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North Las Vegas police petition in dog shooting case denied

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North Las Vegas police petition in dog shooting case denied

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Feb 28, 2014

North Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The controversy over police killing pets continues as North Las Vegas police are handed another blow in court.

They've been fighting for six years to not have to answer for their actions in killing a family's two dogs, but on Friday they lost that fight.

"What they did was not right. It could have been prevented," said Louisa Thurston, whose dogs, Bruno and Blue, were killed by North Las Vegas SWAT officers in February 2008.

They were serving a high-risk search warrant at her home, looking for her estranged husband, who was wanted on armed robbery charges. He wasn't there. Louisa and her teenage daughter were.

"I didn't understand the way they came in there and treated me and my daughter the way that they did, and then to do what they did with my animals, my babies, it's unforgivable."

Thurston filed a lawsuit but a federal district judge dismissed the case.

She appealed and won in January. But North Las Vegas police weren't done fighting. They asked the court for a rehearing. That request was denied Friday.

"It's important for people who have animals, and individuals that have the constitutional rights, to be secure that their dogs aren't going to be killed just because the police have been called," said Thurston's attorney Cal Potter.

In January, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco found, "Genuine issues of material fact as to whether the police officers acted reasonably in shooting Thurston's pet pit bull and mastiff."

"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."

The city's attorney tried to argue the home had not yet been secured at the time of the shooting, but produced no evidence of that, which judges said makes it reasonable to believe, "The officers had enough time to observe the dogs' behavior and summon Animal Control specialists," before they were allegedly attacked by the dogs.

The court also questions that, saying, despite officers' testimony, there's a, "Genuine issue of fact as to whether the dogs attacked." The judges wrote, "Perhaps they did not attack at all."

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

The court also took issue with the fact that Animal Control was not brought in, saying police had time to summon them.

Also, one officer 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 police about that in November.

"Do they bring an Animal Control officer in case there is a dog so that that can be avoided?" Darcy Spears asked North Las Vegas Police Officer Chrissie 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 SWAT situation," Coon answered.

Louisa said Animal Control did arrive, but much too late for Bruno and Blue.

"They got out of the car and they got clear plastic bags and went back in the house. About ten minutes later, 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."

When we talked to Officer Coon in November, she said in cases like this, police often have to make a split second decision.

"It is absolutely not our top priority to come in and do any harm to any of the animals that are there. But because that's the nature of what we do, there are circumstances that will present themselves where officers are placed in a situation where they don't have a choice but to defend themselves."

Whether that applies in the Thurston case is still up for debate.

All that will now have to go before a jury, unless North Las Vegas police decide to settle the case or appeal it to the United States Supreme Court.

North Las Vegas Police spokesperson Chrissie Coon said they haven't had a chance to review this latest decision. We will be following up with them after they've read the order to see if they are able to comment.

Also, Nevada Voters for Animals and State Senator David Parks are working on a proposed new law to help police avoid killing pets.

If you'd like to learn more about that, click here.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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