ALBANY, GA –- A routine visit by probation officers to a Georgia woman’s trailer ended in the use of lethal force against her two year old, twelve pound Jack Russel terrier/cocker spaniel mix, Patches. The 300-lb officer claimed that the 12-lb terrier threatened his life and required lethal force to protect himself.
On October 7th at 3:09 pm at the Loblolly Estates Mobile Home Park, probation officers Antoine Jones and Ronnie Simmons arrived, as they had before, to check on Sherry Shelton’s son.
According to an incident report filed by Jones, Sherry Shelton opened the door, and the dog, Patches (a friend’s pet), charged at Jones aggressively. After directing Shelton to restrain Patches, Jones drew his firearm (Georgia parole officers re-qualify twice annually with a Glock semi-automatic pistol) and shot Patches once through her chest.
Jones notified his supervisor, Chief Probation Officer Kimberly Persley, and was instructed to contact the Albany Police Department.
The police report, in which Jones is described as measuring 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, quotes the parole officer: “He stated that he gave the dog verbal commands to get back but the dog continued to come towards him in an aggressive manner so he fired one shot at the dog using his duty weapon”.
Patches fled to the side of the house and was dead after 30 minutes.
According to Shelton, she told Jones that the dog would not bite. After Patches had been shot, Shelton demanded an explanation from Jones as to why he would use lethal force against such a small animal, and he responded that he was afraid for his life.
In a statement from the Georgia Department of Corrections, the agency claims that “it was determined that the Probation Officer responded appropriately.”
It is not clear how the GDC’s determination was arrived at, though it is common in these cases for agencies to close ranks, and only respond with carefully worded statements that deny any possible wrongdoing, especially in the face of the kind of media attention this case has received. If Patches had been a human, for this to be an appropriate action it would mean that the officer had reasonable cause to fear for his life or fear great bodily harm. The officer would also have had to deem that no other option on the ‘use of force continuum’ would be effective, since administering deadly force is a last resort.
While fear for one’s life is a subjective state, it is hard to imagine that between two adult probation officers (who must undergo physical fitness assessments and defensive training), bodily force would not have been an effective means of deterring bodily harm, let alone death (which has not befallen a single police officer at the hands paws of a dog since 1923).
Was the officer’s use of force proportional to the threat? Perhaps Sherry Shelton failed in her responsibility to keep a poorly trained animal away from the officers, but there were clearly other options available, especially considering the dog’s size.
What this case shows, yet again, is that new guidelines are needed for officers as to what is appropriate, and training in how to differentiate between a dog that is excited, or acting territorially, and a dog that is going to attack, and how to defuse the situation in a way that doesn’t leave the dog dead.