Police Officer Shoots and Kills Allegedly Aggressive Dog

Author:

Court: United States District Court for the District of Colorado
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Branson v. Price
Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128559

Facts

In this case, the defendant, a police officer, shot and killed the plaintiff’s dog. The plaintiff subsequently filed a suit against the defendant claiming that the defendant had violated his Fourth Amendment rights and acted unreasonably by killing the animal. The plaintiff hired a dog expert witness to testify that the dog was not acting aggressively when the officer killed it. The defendant filed the current motion to challenge the testimony of the plaintiff’s dog expert witness.

The Dog Expert

The plaintiff’s dog expert witness was the owner and director of the American Canine Academy in Denver, Colorado. He was a professional dog trainer with 20+ years of experience working with pet dogs, sporting dogs, service dogs, security dogs, and patrol dogs. The expert specialized in modifying behavior, training service dogs, tracking dogs, and providing canine protection services. The expert had experience with dogs of various sizes and breeds.

The dog expert witness completed multiple courses from The Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainers as well as an apprenticeship under a trainer. The dog expert was certified as an expert witness in litigation related to canine behavior, training, temperament, and kenneling. He formerly served as a training consultant for numerous service canine organizations and shelters. The dog expert witness also rescued and supervised the fostering and rehabilitation of troubled dogs, enabling them to live happy and healthy lives.

In order to form his opinions on the animal’s behavior at the time of the incident, the dog expert witness relied on video footage of the incident.

Discussion

The defendant challenged the dog expert’s opinions about the dog’s apparent fear at the time of the incident. The defendant also challenged the expert’s opinion regarding the animal’s intent when it ran, claiming that these opinions were inadmissible because they were not based on a reliable methodology and they guided the jury towards reaching a certain conclusion. The defendant further argued that decisions on the dog’s aggressive actions and the reasonability of the defendant’s actions were not proper subjects of expert opinion and should be left to the jury to decide.

The court noted that the dog expert had enough specialized knowledge and experience to sufficiently qualify as an expert witness and capable of offering testimony concerning canine behavior. His method of reviewing the dog’s behavior from the video of the incident was deemed sufficiently reliable methodology. The court further noted that the dog expert’s assessment of the exhibition of fear and intent on the part of the dog would help the jury assess the canine’s behavior, the level of threat the dog presented, and the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions. The court was of the opinion that the criticisms of the dog expert’s testimony raised by the defendant affected the weight of his opinion and not its admissibility.

Held

The defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s dog expert witness was denied.

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