Watch-Out Fido – Dogs That Move in Danger of Being Shot by Police

A warning for those Utah residents with four legged furry family members, any dogs that move may be in danger of being shot by police.

Geist the dog

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

On June 18, 2014 Salt Lake City police officers were searching a Sugar House neighborhood looking for a 3 year old boy who had been reported missing. One officer entered into a latched, fenced yard and encountered a dog instead. The 2 year old Weimaraner dog became startled at the intruder in uniform and ran toward the officer, barking. The officer aimed his weapon and shot the young dog, killing it. The missing child was later found safe and sound at home.

Dogs shot by police

The heartbreaking story of Geist the dog is just one of numerous cases of people’s pets being shot by police even though they were safely secured in their home or yard. One of the most common scenarios in which dogs are shot by police is when officers are executing a search warrant and enter a home without being invited by the residents. Most pets would bark, growl, or even run after someone coming into a house uninvited-especially if they sense their owner’s tensions running high from an unwelcome search warrant.

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Dogs that act like dogs

Regarding the shooting of Geist the dog, a federal judge ruled that the police officer who shot Geist acted appropriately for the circumstances. This same ruling is found often in cases where dogs are shot by police. In December a Michigan couple whose two dogs were shot and killed while retreating to the basement from police was shocked at the federal court ruling. A judge told them if a dog moves or barks, a police officer is allowed to shoot to kill. Any dog who doesn’t bark or move a muscle will not be shot by police; in other words, any dog that doesn’t act like a dog is safe from harm.

Constitutional Rights against Unreasonable Searches Not Maintained in Cases of Mistaken Identity

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ Constitutional Rights against unreasonable searches, however these rights are not maintained in cases of mistaken identity.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Mistakes are known to happen, and sometimes when those blunders are made by law enforcement it can result in the wrong person being arrested. One of the areas where law enforcement has been known to slip-up occasionally is with mistaken identity. Police can often confuse an innocent person with a suspect due to issues such as address typos, similar names, or matching physical description. When this occurs, it can have prolonged emotional and even criminal repercussions.

Wrong man

When cases of mistaken identity are seen as the blunders by law enforcement that they are, those officers involved may end up temporarily or permanently removed from their position in the police department. They may also face civil lawsuits brought out by those they wrongly identified. Last year an Indiana man named DeShawn Franklin was awarded a whopping $18 settlement for a case of mistaken identity that took place four years prior. During the incident in question, officers entered the home Franklin lived in with his parents and went into the high school senior’s room where he lay asleep in his bed. After the startled teenager struggled due to the frightening scene, officers then punched him several times and hit him with a Taser gun before hauling him off to jail.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Lil Treyco

It turned out that Franklin, who matched the police’s description of a slender African-American man with dreadlocks, was not the person authorities were looking for. The man officers were searching for was Franklin’s older brother who wasn’t present at the time.

Arrested anyway

Sometimes an arrest based on mistaken identity doesn’t end with such profitable settlements and can still result in charges for the person arrested. This can happen if the person wrongfully detained ends up having warrants, being wanted for other crimes, or if illegal contraband is found in their possession during a search. This was the case for a Utah man named Wendell Navanick, who just so happened to share a name and birth year with another Utah man who had an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. When authorities located the warrantless Wendell Navanick, they ignored the man’s statement of being the wrong guy and booked him into the Salt Lake City Jail. During the booking procedure, authorities found drugs on Navanick and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. Although it was quickly discovered that authorities had not arrested the right person, Navanick was still charged with possession related to the drugs that were found on him during the booking process.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “ The United States Courts adds however, that the Fourth Amendment “is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.”

Unreasonable search loophole

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Photo by: West Midlands Police

When a victim of mistaken identity ends up with charges related to a search of their person or property because they were believed to be someone else, that search is not considered unconstitutional by law. In the case of the State of Utah v. Navanick, the defendant tried to claim his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated with the bookings search since it was “predicated upon an invalid arrest” however that claim for an appeal was shot down. The arrest was validated since the officers were found to have probable cause. “The only question is whether it was reasonable for the arresting officers to believe that the person arrested was the one sought.” (Gero v. Hanault). Anyone who is facing criminal charges related to a mistaken identity search is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to ensure that all Constitutional Rights during criminal proceedings are protected.

Will a “No Trespassing” Sign Protect a Roommate from a Search Warrant?

When someone living in a shared home is served with a search warrant for their residence, another roommate may have their private room explored as well, even if a “No Trespassing” sign is posted.

State v. Boyles

Search Warrant

Photo by: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

When law enforcement officials began a search on the home of James Fitts who they had under investigation, they were unaware that a locked room with a “No Trespassing” sign belonged to another roommate, Evan D. Boyles. After forcing their way into the locked private room, they discovered drug paraphernalia and arrested Boyles after he stated the room was his. Boyles attempted to have the evidence suppressed in court since Fitts was the target of the search warrant, however that motion was denied.

Vague search warrant

Photo by:  Nicolas Raymond

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Although officers may have known which bedroom belonged to Fitts, they claimed to be unaware that the “No Trespassing” sign meant a private room. Typically, a search warrant will specify which areas of a residence can be searched and what items are being located however the search warrant obtained for Fitts’ residence allowed officers to search every inch of that property. It stated “all outbuildings, garages, sheds, vehicles, trailers, boats, locked containers, and other property contained within the property lines (. . . )” could be searched.

Protection for roommates

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Sharing a residence with others definitely has its ups and downs. While the cost of living may be decreased with more individuals splitting the bills, there is a diminished sense of privacy that comes with the territory. Just as labeling food in a fridge is common practice among roommates, clearly labeling private bedrooms can also be helpful in the unfortunate event that a search warrant is placed on the home. Had Boyles’ room stated that it was the “private room of Evan Boyles” instead of simply “No Trespassing” officers would have to be aware it was a separate residence. A more specific sign could have made the difference in whether or not Boyles’ charges were dropped. For more information on Fourth Amendment Rights regarding search and seizures, contact a criminal defense attorney.