A deputy with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office fatally shot a groundhog in Eldersburg on Sunday in an incident captured on video that has been widely shared on social media.
The deputy stopped when he observed the groundhog acting oddly, department spokesman Cpl. Jon Light said.
"It doesn't appear that it had bitten anyone at that point," Light said.
It is unclear whether the groundhog was rabid, Light said.
In a statement, the sheriff's office said the deputy stopped when the animal in the road, "causing vehicles to stop and creating a hazard."
The deputy then got out of his vehicle, tried to direct the groundhog off the road and "realized that it was not responding as expected for an animal that was not being cornered or trapped. Believing the groundhog to be either sick or injured, the deputy then put the animal down for the public's safety," the statement said.
The incident occurred shortly after 4 p.m. at Liberty Road, near White Rock Road, where the deputy had stopped traffic in both directions.
Justyna Olkowska saw the encounter while driving home from her job as a payroll manager in Sykesville, and posted a video of it on Facebook that has been viewed over 37,000 times.
"You see the groundhog coming after the officer. At this point in time, the animal was not acting as a normal animal would. It is within our policy to dispose of any animal that could pose a health threat," Light said.
The video shows the deputy stepping toward the groundhog, which doesn't back away. The deputy then slowly backs into the next lane of traffic and the groundhog runs toward the deputy. The deputy then pulls his gun, gets down on one knee and shoots the groundhog once. The groundhog continues to roll around and the deputy then gets down on one knee again and shoots the groundhog a second time, and then walks back toward his patrol car.
"It started out as a cute encounter where I thought he was trying to help the little fella," said Olkowska, who lives in Pikesville. "I obviously did not think that it would take this turn and was kind of shocked. I am sure the officer did the best thing in this situation. It is not for me to judge."
Light said the sheriff's office is reviewing the incident.
Light did not provide information about the deputy.
In 2014, Baltimore police shot and killed a 780-pound steer in the Mid-Town Belvedere after it escaped from a West Baltimore slaughterhouse.
During that incident, some witnesses expressed concern about police opening fire on the animal with people nearby, but a police said officers shot the steer because it had become "increasingly aggressive" and officers were unable to contain it.