Officer who shot family's dog suspended for day without pay
Punishment related to bullet that went through apartment
CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign police officer who fired his gun in a residential neighborhood last fall, killing a dog and sending a round through a nearby apartment, has been suspended for a day without pay.
The News-Gazette obtained the report of Officer Andre Davis' discipline through a Freedom of Information request. The discipline was meted out March 6, according to the letter from Davis' supervisor, Lt. Robert Rea.
Davis was a patrol officer on Nov. 17, 2012, when he reacted to two dogs fighting at Crescent and John streets in the evening by drawing his weapon and firing.
Police reports — also obtained earlier under the Freedom of Information Act — revealed he fired seven shots at the dogs, killing the family pet of Jake and Kathy Saathoff as their teenage daughter watched.
She had been walking their Labrador retriever, which was on a leash, when an unleashed pit bull terrier approached and began fighting with it.
Police were called when she and another man were unable to separate the animals.
The pit bull terrier ran away after the shooting but was caught and euthanized about 10 days later when no one claimed it. Besides bite wounds from the Labrador retriever, the pit bull terrier's right leg was cut by a grazing bullet wound.
Since the shooting, Davis has been reassigned to the department's detective division. His letter of suspension does not exactly spell out the conduct for which Davis was suspended.
"Your actions violated Rule 4(H) of the Rules and Regulations of the Champaign Police Department." Rule 4(H) states, "Officers shall carry and use firearms in accordance with law and departmental directive."
Police Chief Anthony Cobb declined to explain what that means.
But Jake Saathoff said he was told by Champaign police Lt. Jon Swenson that Davis was being disciplined, not for killing his family's dog, but because one of his bullets went through a first-floor apartment at the nearby Round Barn Manor, 2000 W. John St. No one was harmed.
Swenson referred questions about the discipline to Cobb, who told The News-Gazette it was based on the totality of the circumstances.
The punishment is the second that Davis has received in his 8-year career with the Champaign Police Department over a weapons violation.
In November 2009, he was given a letter of reprimand for a September 2009 incident in which he drew his weapon and fired at a suicidal man who he believed was about to get a gun from the trunk of a car. The gun discharge was deemed to be accidental by an internal firearms discharge review board and resulted in Davis getting remedial training with a firearms instructor.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said her office reviewed the entire report of the November incident and found no violations of any criminal laws by Davis.
"Reckless discharge of a firearm specifically does not apply to a peace officer in the official line of duty," she said. "This matter is best handled internally by the Champaign Police Department or through a civil action; there is no evidence of criminal intent on the part of the officer."
Saathoff, who had several communications with City Manager Steve Carter before his retirement last month, remains convinced that the city is not holding Davis accountable for fatally shooting his dog.
"He's being disciplined for the round going through the apartment building, not for killing the dog," Saathoff said.
Larry Krause, the city's risk manager, said Wednesday that he is still trying to come up with a figure to compensate the Saathoffs, a task he has been working on since at least two months.
"I am working on it. I don't have a time frame because I'm still doing my research to see what we can do," he said.
Saathoff maintains that his family is less interested in a cash settlement than they are Davis' punishment and the department's policy regarding treatment of animals.
"It's not about money. It's about the police department not holding that officer accountable. They're not holding him accountable because that was for the round going through the apartment building. They're saying they can kill a dog any time they want to and that it's within policy," he said.
"Carter keeps calling it an accident. It wasn't an accident. He deliberately shot that dog. He intentionally killed our dog. That's in his report," Saathoff said.
"The city thinks they're trying to put a price on a dog. It's more that these are civil rights violations. The killing of a dog is a violation of the Fourth Amendment because it is a seizure. The fact that the city deems all animals to be dangerous and allows police officers to shoot them is a violation of due process. It takes a court of law to deem a domestic dog dangerous. There was nothing in that report that said our dog was vicious or dangerous or that anyone was at risk," Saathoff said.
In the wake of the dog shooting, Cobb initiated a review of the department's use-of-force policy. It has since been amended to clarify that an "aggressive animal must present an imminent threat to a human being before deadly force" can be used.
Cobb also said in January that the department would begin training to help officers better handle calls involving vicious animals, something officers had not been previously offered. He said Tuesday that training is supposed to begin this month.
Saathoff said he and his wife have consulted with Springfield attorney Stephen Hedinger about what happened to their pet. A biographical sketch about Hedinger on the website of his firm, Sorling Northrup Attorneys, says Hedinger "is in the vanguard of the emerging practice area focusing on legal issues related to animals."
"I hope it doesn't go to that (litigation) but if it does, it does," Saathoff said.