On August 15, 2004, a handful of City of Milwaukee police officers acted on an anonymous tip that a wanted felon had entered Ms. Virgina Viilo’s home accompanied by a pit bull. Ms. Viilo was relaxing in her backyard with her elderly mother when the cops arrived. Officer Montell Carter “prepared for this eventuality by arming himself with a shotgun because, as he later said, ‘the best weapon for a dog is a shotgun through my experience.’”
Allow me to cut to the chase: The cops killed Bubba, Ms. Viilo’s Labrador Retriever/Springer Spaniel mix, who had rushed to the fence to greet his visitors.
Although the officers testified that Bubba was growling and exposing his teeth and gums, a neighbor who witnessed the scene later testified that the dog was coming out to greet them. Apparently fearing for the officers’ safety, Carter fired two shots at Bubba, hitting him at least once and causing comminuted and compound bone fractures to his front leg. Bubba, in turn, retreated to the bushes near the front window of Viilo’s house where he hid for the next ten minutes.
Eyre raised his handgun to shoot Bubba. Although he later professed to fear for his own safety, he nevertheless reconsidered his decision to use his handgun and ordered Carter, who had a shotgun, to shoot Bubba instead. The crowd, meanwhile, had grown larger and people were yelling at the officers not to shoot. Ignoring the crowd’s pleas, Carter shot Bubba a third and then a fourth time. Although Eyre later testified that he ordered the fourth shot to end Bubba’s suffering, he made no mention of this to the police lieutenant who wrote the official police report.
After taking the first two shots, Bubba was whimpering and limping, but the police wouldn’t alllow Ms. Viilo to call a veterinarian nor even comfort Bubba. As the court held today, “[t]here is no question that Viilo’s account of events establishes a violation of her constitutional rights. Every circuit that has considered the issue has held that the killing of a companion dog constitutes a ‘seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” (citations omitted).
Yes, there are at least two sides to any story. But here? The cops’ defenses are that (1) Bubba was interferring with their investigation, and (2) they didn’t know that killing someone’s helpless dog was constitutionally offensive. Well, because the officers were too challenged to figure out (2), I’m glad the federal court of appeals explained that they were wrong about (1), too.
I hope Ms. Viilo takes a bite out of the MPD’s budget. RIP Bubba.