A DeKalb County police officer resigned Monday after coming under fire for shooting a resident’s German Shepherd and then blocking the owner from taking the dog to the vet.
Doctor, a 9-year-old family pet, surprised Officer David Anthony Pitts who had come to the house on Mary Lou Lane near Decatur on Thursday because of a false alarm. The officer shot the dog in the face.
Pitts defended the shooting to investigators as necessary.
“Officer Pitts stated the k9 ran towards his direction in an aggressive manner showing teeth and growling at him,” said the police incident report. “At this time Officer Pitts felt in fear of his life and discharged his duty weapon two times at the aggressive k9 to stop the threat.”
Tim Theall, who has raised Doctor from a pup, said the dog is not aggressive, but he understood how Pitts could make a mistake when confronted with a large dog bounding in his direction.
But the DeKalb man was stunned when Pitts threatened to arrest him if he left immediately to get medical attention for the dog that Theall believed was dying. The officer said it violated procedure in a shooting investigation, Theall said.
“I said, ‘I’m going to get my dog to a vet because he is alive,’ and that is when he blocked my exit,” said Theall, who described the big dog as a friendly people lover. “I take him everywhere. I take him to parties. I take him to the park all the time. He is very socialized.”
Pitts blocked Theall’s driveway with his patrol car. The frantic Theall said he loaded Doctor into his car and drove around the car but the officer followed, blocking the 43-year-old graphic artist from leaving the southeast DeKalb neighborhood. Then he ordered Theall to return home or be arrested.
“Doctor just laid down on my lap and started to die while we waited for the officer’s boss to come and run the procedures,” Theall said. “Their procedures were just the sergeant taking photos of my dog.”
About a half hour after the shooting, Theall said he was allowed to take Doctor to the vet. The dog is expected to survive but will likely have large medical bills. Theall’s wife, Melissa Brewer, started webpage that has raised more than $11,000 for expected medical bills at gofundme.com.
Theall said any extra funds will be donated to a no-kill shelter or to the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The shooting and delayed medical attention prompted a slew of negative comments on the webpage and the story even made it into the British press in dog-crazy England.
DeKalb Police Chief James Conroy said he accepted Pitts resignation Monday, which he said was not requested. The chief said the shooting was still under investigation but that officers can use deadly force if they have a reasonable fear that they may be seriously harmed by a dog — a perception that he acknowledged might be shaped by an officer’s comfort level with canines.
“The way one of our K9 handlers might respond could be totally different from how one of our officers on the street who has never owned a dog might respond.” Conroy said.
The chief said he was troubled by the charge that Pitts prohibited Theall from immediately seeking medical attention for the dog; and the department is reviewing developing guidelines regarding that situation. He also said the department planned to adopt more extensive training for officers in confronting aggressive or potentially aggressive dogs in hopes of less lethal outcomes.
DeKalb officers shot at 16 dogs in 2013 and Conroy said he believed that Doctor was the ninth dog this year. The department makes a report whether the dog is hit or not, he said.
“There are animal lovers throughout the world,” he said. “I had calls over the weekend from Los Angeles and Utah from people who were concerned about the case.”
An investigator met with Theall and Brewer on Monday morning to get their account of what happened. The investigator asked how the officer blocked him from leaving, Theall said.
The shooting happened after Theall said he had brought his dog outside to go to the bathroom before dinner. Pitts apparently had arrived while they were around the corner of the house. After Doctor did his business, he bounded around the corner to the front door to go back inside.
That is when Theall said he heard the officer cry out in shock and fire twice.
“He is coming around the corner, his tongue is hanging out of his mouth — he just had supper on his mind,” Theall said of his dog. “I can understand the officer being surprised….He wasn’t belligerent at all. I think he was in shock more than anything else.
“He kept saying, ‘I love dogs.’”
Which makes it all the more perplexing that Pitts delayed immediate medical attention for the severely wounded dog, Theall said. The officer called animal control to assist.
“I don’t see the point at all —he is trying to preserve the scene of his crime,” Theall said. ” When animal control showed up they asked, ‘Where is the cadaver?” They were expecting a dead dog. There was no help from DeKalb police that day.”