The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 16, 2010

Controversy over police shooting of dog

OTTUMWA — Ottumwa police are facing fierce criticism from neighbors who say Saturday’s shooting of a family pet wasn’t justified.

Officer Aaron Vose shot the German shepherd in its owner’s yard at 201 N. Iowa Ave., at the corner with Locust Street. Neighbor Joyce Paris saw the shooting and said the dog, “Spock,” barked but did not appear to be aggressive.

“Just as I turned he went ‘Boom’ and shot that dog. I said, ‘You little chickens---,”’ Paris said. “When the policeman came up to the [yard], Spock came to meet him. When he pulled his gun, Spock didn’t like guns.”

Dora Olson, who lives across the street, said people in the neighborhood have repeatedly called police about a rottweiler allowed to roam loose while its owner takes it for walks without any apparent response.

“They’ve never done anything, then you come up and shoot this dog? I was mad,” she said. Olson accused police of being “out of control.”

Neighbors are mad about the shooting, but what happened next has them even angrier. They say Vose’s supervisor, Sgt. Rick Jones, arrived and behaved aggressively toward the people who had gathered. Accounts from neighbors are consistent and say Jones repeatedly threatened to arrest anyone who did not go back into their homes.

The neighbors’ accounts agree the residents of nearby homes were angrily confronting officers, though there does not appear to have been any physical contact made.

“There was neighbors out in the yard yelling at him, screaming at him,” Paris said. “People were screaming and hollering at him, ‘Why’d you do that?’ Because he didn’t have to shoot [the dog].”

Olson’s husband was one of those threatened. Paris witnessed the confrontation. Olson was standing near a stop sign on his yard when Jones told him he was on public property. Jones allegedly responded by saying the first four feet of a yard are city property and if Olson did not return to his house he would be arrested.

Robert Headley, a neighbor on Iowa Avenue, said Jones “was wanting to throw everyone in the neighborhood in jail.”

Police Chief Jim Clark backed his officers on Monday. He pointed to the fact that, despite threats, no one was arrested in the incident.

“They still have no right to turn and go after our officers. Disorderly conduct includes what the supreme court has referred to as ‘fighting words,”’ Clark said. “That’s not a First Amendment issue. They have no right to harass that officer.”

The question of fighting words does not square with what Jennifer Hodson, the dog’s owner, said Jones told her.

“I was on my porch screaming, ‘Why?’ I was in shock. [Jones] came up and told me he was going to put me in jail,” she said.

While neighbors raised questions about why Vose did not use pepper spray or his Taser, Clark said those items are not as effective in situations with animals as people may think. A Taser is most effective when the target is relatively steady in relation to the officer. And even people can shrug off pepper spray.

“If you’ve got a dog attacking you, pepper spray isn’t necessarily going to work,” Clark said.

To Clark, the issue goes back to the fact, which is not disputed by officers or neighbors, that the dog was loose. That is what prompted a call to police from another neighbor, whom Hodson says has a grudge against her family.

Hodson said Monday she is considering what legal options she may have.

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com

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