Family seeks answers in dog’s death

bburger@bradenton.comMarch 22, 2010 

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MANATEE — A family is looking to meet with Manatee County Sheriff’s Office officials after a deputy shot and killed their dog.

The dog was killed Feb. 11 by a deputy who had gone to a residence in the 300 block of 20th Street East in Palmetto looking for 20-year-old Raphael J. Houston, who was wanted on grand theft and burglary charges. When a 13-year-old girl let the dog out a side door, a deputy looking for Houston shot and killed the dog.

Now the family, who has retained an attorney, is considering a lawsuit.

Tiffany Summerall, 13, who resides at the residence with her parents, Raphael O. Houston and Christina Summerall, and five younger siblings, said she let the family dog out not knowing deputies were in her yard.

Brooklyn, a 6-year-old brown and white dog, normally was let out at the time the deputies were at the residence, according to family members.

Tiffany heard a man’s voice telling her to come and get the dog.

“I called the dog three times and then walked over,” she said. “(The deputy) was swinging a walkie talkie at the dog. He then pulled out a gun. I said, ‘Please don’t shoot him. He’s not going to bite.’”

Tiffany called the dog one last time and the dog started to walk toward her, she said.

“He started walking toward me and he shot him,” she said. “I started screaming, ‘Why did you shoot my dog?’”

According to a sheriff’s office internal affairs report, the deputy told investigators, “The dog was barking and/or growling and bearing it’s (sic) teeth. I began back peddling (sic) and the dog continued charging toward me and lunged toward me with its front legs leaving the ground. I swung my radio at the dog in an attempt to avoid being bitten.”

The sheriff’s office classified the dog as a pit bull in reports, while the family said the dog was not a pit bull, but rather a mixed breed.

The deputy told investigators Brooklyn lunged at him a several times before he fired. The dog sustained a gunshot wound to its right side and later died.

Sheriff’s office policy allows deputies to shoot dogs if they fear for their personal safety or the safety of others. The deputy was exonerated, according to the internal affairs report.

“Due to the fact the dog was aggressively pursuing (the deputy) with the apparent intention of inflicting physical harm, coupled with the fact that no one in the residence had any control over the animal whatsoever, (he) was only left with the options of being attacked by the dog or resorting to lethal force to terminate the attack,” the reports states.

Raphael J. Houston was not arrested, but he was picked up the next day.

Houston’s father lives at the residence, but Houston hasn’t lived there in almost five years, according to family members.

According to the sheriff’s office, when deputies go to pick up people on warrants, they usually check the person’s driver’s license and latest arrest report and talk with their probation officer to determine their whereabouts. They look up relatives and known associates. Sometimes, they do surveillance on properties before making contact, according to authorities.

According to the internal affairs report on the shooting, authorities relied upon the address on Raphael J. Houston’s driver’s license.

“His relatives live there. We had every reason to believe he might be there,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.

Bristow said the family never filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office

Houston said his son was recently in jail. Had authorities checked with a probation officer or arrest reports, they would have had the correct address, he said

“If they had investigated, my dog would be alive today,” Raphael O. Houston said. “I would love to do whatever is necessary for justice even though it can’t bring my dog back.”

Mark Lipinski, who is representing the family, said a letter will be sent to the sheriff’s office this week requesting a meeting. He said the dog had no prior complaints with Manatee County Animal Services.

“The fact of the matter is he overreacted. He didn’t do what he should have done which is retreat,” Lipinski said. “As a result, we have a family that isn’t complete.”

This incident is one of three dog-related shootings this year with deputies at the sheriff’s office.