Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies killed a teenager Thursday morning while shooting at a pitbull they said was charging at them.
It’s another example of over-reliance on police response and too much deference to the actions they take. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s office said its policy is that officers are allowed to shoot at dogs if they “reasonably believe” they could be seriously injured or killed by the animal.
The Los Angeles district attorney’s office considers shootings of dogs that pose an immediate, severe or fatal threat justified, even if a person is injured in the shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The deputies initially responded to a call about a “loud party,” at an apartment complex. Deputies said a pit bull charged at them when they arrived at the location. Armando Garcia-Muro, 17, had briefly restrained the dog but it got away again.
Two of the five sheriff’s deputies shot six to eight rounds at the pitbull. None of them appear to have hit the dog.
Garcia-Muro was hit in the chest by at least one round about 3:40 am Thursday in Palmdale. Deputies said the bullet may have ricocheted off the ground. A ricocheting bullet fragment also struck the leg of a deputy who was bitten by the dog, according to the police account.
The teen “may have been struck by one of the skip rounds in what we’re calling an extremely, extremely unfortunate incident,” Capt. Christopher Bergner told the Times. “Our initial impression was [the deputies] didn’t even see the individual coming around from the side of the building.”
The owner of the dog, who told the Times she didn’t want to identify herself because she had “too many things going on with the law right now,” said she doubted the deputies’ claim that the 3-year-old blue-nosed pit bull attacked them.
“That’s not my dog. That’s not his personality,” she told the Times. The woman also told the newspaper her apartment was used as a hangout for local teenagers who “come over and listen to music.”
Deputies did not say whether or not they retrieved or killed the dog. Bergner told the Times any time a deputy fires their service weapon, they are put on temporary desk duty during the subsequent investigation.
From the sheriff’s account the shooting appears to be accidental. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t preventable. Any thorough investigation would attempt to explain why, if Garcia-Muro was able to restrain the dog on his own, even for a brief time, couldn’t five trained law enforcement professionals do so without the use of a firearm in the early morning in a dark residential area.
Department and district attorney policies on shooting dogs do not encourage finding those answers. The leeway given to law enforcement officers puts bystanders at risk.