A Colorado family is suing a local police department after an officer exited his squad car, pulled his gun, and shot and killed the family’s dog in time span of approximately 13 seconds in June 2019. The lawsuit claims that the shooting death of the 14-month-old puppy is yet another in a string of events which have resulted from an “openly dangerous” policy of Loveland city officials to aggressively service complaints from local business owners at the expense of “individual citizens” and “particularly those who appear to be poor.”
“He’s my baby!” a woman screamed at a police officer.
“Get back to the truck!” the officer responded.
“Why did you have to shoot him?” a man yelled from the distance.
“He’s right! He’s a puppy!” the woman yelled.
“Get to your truck! I didn’t know that!” the officer said as the woman began to sob.
The video later indicates that the officer was called to the scene to investigate a report of trespassing. The man and the woman had unloaded a large outdoor-style ice chest into an empty parking lot; the man said they were going to paint it there because the location was out of the way and because he thought the business property looked like it was abandoned.
The lawsuit names the woman, Wendy Love, and the man, Jay Hamm, as plaintiffs. They are husband and wife, the documents indicate. The named defendants are Officer Mathew Grashorn, Sgt. Philip Metzler, Chief Robert Ticer, and the City of Loveland, Colo.
The dog is described in court papers as Herkimer, a 14-month-old mixed breed Staffordshire terrier and boxer mix.
“Herkimer was a sweet, loving, playful dog,” the lawsuit says. “He was beloved by his family. He was a good boy.”
“Herkimer was not a Pitbull,” the lawsuit continues. “Herkimer had no history of biting or otherwise being dangerous to humans. He was known to be affectionate and friendly with both people and other dogs.”
Back to the video.
“He’s a puppy!” the woman in the video continued to plead. “Can I see him? Please let me see him! Please, oh my God, let me see him?”
The officer continued to try to order the couple into a truck.
“I can’t believe you fucking shot him!” the man appeared to yell from the distance — but he was a bit hard to make out.
“Get in the truck!” the officer answered.
“Oh, my God, please let me see him! He’s dying! If he’s dying, let me see him! He’s dying, okay!”
“Okay, okay,” the frustrated officer told the woman.
“Oh, my God, can I call a vet?” the woman asked.
The officer then yelled at the woman to “get away” from the mortally wounded dog, saying it would bite her.
“He will bite you!” the officer repeated several times under the apparent supposition that the dog was vicious. “He’s hurt.”
“Sir, tell her to get away,” the officer told the man. “He will bite her. He’s hurt.” Watch the video below (a more graphic version that shows the moment the officer opened fire can be seen here):
The man apparently yet inaudibly complained again about the fact that the officer shot the dog.
“Maybe you ought to have your dogs in your trucks, then!” the officer yelled back at the man. “Is this your property? That’s why I’m here, because you’re trespassing.”
The lawsuit explains the specifics on the accusation of trespassing:
The commercial lot at 995 N. Wilson Ave. where Plaintiffs had parked was not fenced or enclosed to keep intruders out. It was not agricultural land. There were no “no trespassing” signs erected. Therefore the worst “crime” alleged to have been committed by Ms. Love and Mr. Hamm by the business owner was third degree trespass, which is the lowest-level form of trespass, and a mere petty offense under Colorado law.
In the video, the woman became increasingly emotional and asked if she could get the dog to a veterinarian. The officer repeatedly told her that an attempt to procure medical treatment would be pointless and did not attempt to call for help. The woman said she thought the dog might survive.
Then the officer changed his tune and suggested he would get help, but the audio recording does not suggest that help was immediately summoned.
The officer then yelled at the couple about whether he had any reason to believe the dog would not bite him.
“He’s a puppy,” the woman said.
“Do I know that? DO I KNOW THAT?” the officer yelled back. “Okay. Yeah. Thanks for telling me how to do my job!”
“Do I know your dog’s friendly?” the officer later told the man. “I’m not in the business to get bit.”
“That’s a bummer,” the man said.
“It is a terrible bummer,” the officer said.
The officer said he was called to the scene — the parking lot of a concrete business building with an adjacent picnic table — because the business owner thought the man and the woman were “loading stuff up.”
That’s when the man said he had brought the ice machine to the lot to paint it while making firewood deliveries.
The officer said it made no sense to use private property in such a manner.
The lawsuit documents explained the scenario this way:
At approximately 5:00 pm on June 29, 2019, Plaintiffs Ms. Love and Mr. Hamm were working for their firewood delivery business in the Loveland area. Like always, they had their pack of dogs (Bubba, Max and Herkimer) riding along with them in their truck. They had been driving quite a bit and it was a nice day. They decided to stop in a vacant parking lot next to an apparently vacant commercial building to make some repairs to the large ice box they were going to utilize for their final firewood delivery of the day.
The building had no signage. It had no vehicles parked in or near it. All of the windows were covered up from the inside. The flag pole was bare.
The lawsuit goes on to describe the couple’s and actions with their dogs, then recaps why the building’s owner called 911:
Unbeknownst to Plaintiff’s, the building’s owner, Andrew Hendrickson, was remotely watching surveillance video from the lot and saw their silver truck park in the back corner. Mr. Hendrickson decided he would call Loveland police to investigate them. He told dispatch that someone had tampered with the dumpster lock on the property once previously and he didn’t want the truck occupants to mess with it.
Again, back to the video.
“My sergeant’s coming,” the officer said. “If he wants to let you take him to the vet, he can.”
The officer said in the recording that he had been on the force for 14 years and had never shot a dog. He said he had to make a split-second decision as to whether or not the dog was going to bite him.
Later, the officer said he was going to talk to the business’s owner to see if the owner wished to have the man ticketed or issued a warning. The situation seemed to resolve with a warning — with the man promising he would not return to the lot.
“Why would I?” the man responded, given the shooting of his pet.
The man and the officer then engaged in a debate over whether a “stun gun” would have been the proper weapon. They also quibbled over whether or not the parking lot needed “no trespassing” signs.
“Well, you’re in a big hurry to get to the track — now’s your opportunity,” the officer said.
The man packed the ice machine back onto his truck as the officer who pulled the trigger conferred with other officers who by then had arrived on the scene.
A swarm of uniformed officers were visible near where the dog’s body had once laid.
A female officer asked the man to drive his truck closer to the dog so that the animal’s blood wouldn’t get all over.
At several instances, the man quipped as to whether the officers wanted to shoot his other dog while they were there.
“Get your dog,” one of them told him.
“I’m getting my dog,” he replied in disgust as he retrieved his other animal which was in a grassy area along a fence.
The video ended as the officer announced “end of call” while turning off his body camera. The final frames showed discarded tissues and blood staining the pavement where the dog collapsed.
The couple’s lawsuit says the entire altercation was the result of well-publicized city and police policies to serve business owners first and foremost:
City of Loveland leadership and Loveland’s Police Department leadership regularly communicate to the private business community in Loveland that the LPD’s top priority is to serve them – the private business owners. This policy is regularly and aggressively reiterated to the lower ranks of all LPD officers. Whatever any business owner’s whim is in Loveland, the City makes it well known that their police force will do whatever it takes, including the use of extreme force, to demonstrate the City’s commitment to protecting business interests.
City council member Don Overcash repeatedly cites this policy in City Council meetings, in addition to even having opinion pieces authored by himself published in the Loveland Reporter-Herald stating the same. This policy is unusually severe and openly dangerous. It openly trades heightened risk to the lives and safety of individual citizens in order to promote or attract more business development.
The absurd recklessness of this policy and obvious risk it presents to the lives and health of Loveland citizens has played out over and over again quite publicly and quite embarrassingly for Loveland. Still, Chief Ticer and the City of Loveland maintain the policy and continue to encourage the prioritization of business interests over the safety and well-being of individual citizens (particularly those who appear to be poor).
Alleged examples of the trouble this city policy has stirred up are given in the lawsuit:
On June 26, 2020, Walmart suffered no loss when dementia-sufferer and 73-year-old woman Karen Garner walked out of the store without paying for $13.88 of items. When confronted, she gave the items back and attempted to pay for them. Walmart refused and instead called LPD to deal with it. LPD sent multiple officers, including Sergeant Metzler, to locate and tackle Ms. Garner, causing her to suffer a broken and dislocated shoulder. The multiple officers involved did this knowing that Walmart hadn’t suffered any loss. They did it pursuant to the aforementioned policy of making large, demonstrative showings of allegiance to Loveland businesses.
On July 20, 2020, Target contacted Loveland PD to deal with a man (Keenan Stuckey) suffering from mental health issues in their parking lot, requesting that they arrest or remove him even though he was breaking no laws and bothering nobody. Loveland PD sent six officers there in minutes, and they promptly brutalized the man with batons, kicking him, punching him, and doing a pile-driver type of jump atop his lifeless body.
The lawsuit says the city’s M.O. is becoming more and more transparent now that its officers started wearing body cameras in May 2019.
The man in the video who owned the dog suggested he was from out of town.
The lawsuit alleged that the city and its police department have been subjected to “public outcry” and “has become known (now, internationally) for subjecting its citizens to incidents of extraordinarily excessive force and disproportionately reckless violence whenever a private business owner makes a complaint of petty theft or petty trespass.”
And it calls the couple’s actions in the parking lot the “pinnacle of non-urgent calls.”
The document then describes what happened when the police pulled up from the couple’s perspectives — in very harsh language against the officer. It says the officer who pulled the trigger — Grashorn — engaged in an “ambush” of the plaintiffs but “didn’t care.”
“He suspected that they were poor and wanted to surprise them, to see if they were up to anything he might be able to get an arrest for,” the lawsuit claims.
Rather than wait for other officers to arrive, Grashorn startled the older dog, Bubba, who was “dozing on the pavement” and roused Herkimer, who was relaxing inside the couple’s truck.
“Bubba began a friendly gallop towards Officer Grashorn to greet him,” the lawsuit says. It continues:
Rather than take less than two steps back into his vehicle to give Ms. Love and Mr. Hamm an opportunity to control Bubba, Officer Grashorn, still moving towards the family, immediately pulled out his firearm and pointed it at Bubba. Officer Grashorn had his gun pointed at Bubba within one second of Bubba’s standing up. Officer Grashorn yelled at Ms. Love and Mr. Hamm to call their dog off. Grashorn himself did not retreat one single inch.
Ms. Love and Mr. Hamm – quite startled – immediately did so. They called out for Bubba to come back to them, and he did, but not before the excitement and commotion of yelling caused Herkimer, who had been resting in his favorite spot in the truck, to jump out the truck’s open door to go see what the fuss was about.
A few seconds more into this encounter, there were still about 15 yards of distance between the dogs and Officer Grashorn. There were less than 5 feet between Grashorn and obvious, accessible refuge in his patrol car. But he never once took one step backwards. Instead, he stepped forward and kept his gun on Bubba.
Bubba turned back in response to Plaintiffs calling him. Herkimer, like the puppy he was, pranced along side him as he did so, fixated on what Bubba was interested in. As Bubba turned back, Herkimer, who was slowing in speed and had his path of running turn away from Officer Grashorn, finally looked at the officer. Everything about Herkimer’s face and demeanor was one of curiosity and friendly excitement. His pace slowed and then Herkimer’s pointed his direction of travel away from the officer, peeling off to turn back to his owners.
Officer Grashorn did not put his firearm away. Instead, he moved his gun from being pointed at Bubba to being pointed at Herkimer, tracking Herkimer as he began to turn away. There was no threat to him at all. No reasonable officer or reasonable person would have perceived this situation as a threat requiring the immediate euthanization of an innocent citizen’s beloved pet. Bubba was trotting back to his owners and Herkimer was beginning to turn himself to do so as well.
Officer Grashorn didn’t care. He had his gun out and his adrenaline was up so he sure as heck was going to shoot something. So he did. He shot Herkimer twice, once in the face, and a second time in his body.
Herkimer’s body fell to the ground, stiff and paralyzed, his eyes wide open in distress. Ms. Love, close behind him, began sobbing and crying. Herkimer was the light and love of Ms. Love’s life. He appeared to have just been shot dead. It would have been better if he had been. But instead, Herkimer was still alive, suffering and immobilized.
The lawsuit goes on to criticize Grashorn’s demeanor and accuses the officer of trying to “cover up his excessive force and obvious misconduct.”
“Herkimer displayed no signs of aggression,” the lawsuit argues. “Herkimer put no one in imminent danger.”
It goes on:
Any reasonable person with any training or experience would have recognized that Herkimer was not a threat to anyone’s safety. He was wagging his tail and appeared curious and excited. His path of travel as he got closer to Grashorn was also not pointed towards Grashorn but instead was visibly slowing and veering off to the side in a C-shape, due to him beginning to point himself back to his owners who were calling him.
But Officer Grashorn already had his gun out for Bubba, and Officer Grashorn was eager to utilize his firearm. Once he saw a dog running towards him, he relished in the opportunity to shoot it and did not care at all about other alternatives.
The suit also accuses the department of sending a battalion of officers to the scene to refuse emergency veterinary care for the animal “to cover up their misconduct before removing the dog from the scene.”
Again, the lawsuit at length:
Sergeant Metzler was well known within the Loveland Police Department for being the supervisor you call when you’ve royally screwed something up. Metzler was the champion of ensuring Loveland Police officers were never held accountable. He was beloved by his subordinates (and his superiors) for his excellent work on this front.
When the couple who owned the dog suggested going to “the media,” the lawsuit says Metzler told Grashorn he’d “better scratch him a ticket for something” to retaliate for against the likely publicity.
Hamm was charged with having a “malicious dog” on account of that conversation, the lawsuit alleges.
“Grashorn . . . maliciously and wrongfully charge[d] Mr. Hamm with this offense in order to improve the optics of their having just murdered Mr. Hamm’s puppy,” documents allege.
But the statute used to file the charge requires bodily injury to occur, the lawsuit points out. Grashorn and Metzler “knew this,” the lawsuit says, pointing to other body camera video as proof the men talked about it — but they continued anyway. And the lawsuit says the district attorney ultimately dismissed the charge against Hamm in October 2019.
The lawsuit also says Grashorn’s report on the incident “did not match the video and contained several obviously false statements.”
“Five months after killing Herkimer, Defendant Officer Grashorn and Defendant Sergeant Metzler killed a human by shooting her to death,” the lawsuit also indicates.
It alleges various an unlawful seizure under the Colorado Revised Statutes and the Colorado Constitution, an unlawful use of fourth under federal law and under the U.S. Constitution, malicious prosecution, due process violations, and for allegedly maintaining unconstitutional policies, practices, customs.
The lawsuit seeks actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, exemplary damages, a written apology, mandatory training, internal discipline, and police policy changes. It also seeks interest and attorney’s fees and costs.
The dog survived for four days before needing to be euthanized, the lawsuit says.
The police department told Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV that it does not comment on pending litigation.
Read the full lawsuit below:
[images via body camera video and via the lawsuit]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]