An Anne Arundel County police officer has been cleared of wrongdoing in killing the dog of a Glen Burnie family, whose lawyer said they are disappointed in the outcome.
Officer Rodney Price had been canvassing the neighborhood in February as part of a burglary investigation when he encountered Vern, a 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, while leaving the Reeves family's yard when no one answered the door. The home on Lombardee Circle was not related to the burglary Price was investigating.
Vern "confronted and attacked" Price, police said at the time. Price fired twice, killing the dog.
Price was put on administrative duty during an investigation, which found no wrongdoing, said County Police Chief Kevin Davis. The investigation showed the dog was "right on top" of Price when he fired the shots, Davis said. Price has been returned to duty.
Photos of the officer showed muddy paw prints on his pants and shirt, and a necropsy conducted at the Virginia-Maryland regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech indicated shots were fired at close range, Davis said.
Cary Hansel, a Greenbelt attorney hired by the Reeves family, said that by exonerating Price the department is setting up a standard that it's acceptable for police to shoot a pet in a residential area without being bitten or scratched.
"His first reaction was to shoot this dog," said Hansel.
Hansel said he believes Price could have used pepper spray, a baton or a flashlight to fend off Vern if he felt threatened. The Reeves' dog had never been investigated by animal control, and police had not been called to the home in the year prior to the incident.
Since the incident, Arundel police have updated training and practices for encountering dogs.
All officers were shown a video about ways to handle dogs during roll calls, and the department purchased 36 catch poles — long poles with a loop on the end for capturing a dog — that are carried by patrol supervisors. The poles cost $2,386. In addition, a company donated 200 hand-held devices that emit a high-frequency sound.
Davis also changed procedures related to shootings of domestic animals. All such shootings are now being investigated by internal affairs detectives, and officers involved in such shootings will be placed on administrative duty during investigations.
Hansel said the changes, while welcome, are too little, too late.
"We're happy they're making some changes in terms of policy, but we're disappointed it took the death of a beloved family pet to make that happen," he said.