One of 2015's first Puppycides, this time in Florida. is consistent with a number of running themes that those who follow this blog will become uncomfortably familiar with seeing, over and over again.
Police attempted to stop a man for the heinous offense of riding a bicycle at night without a light. According to police, and given the circumstances of the circumstances of this incident we are very skeptical of the version of events presented by police, the man immediately fled from police. In order to apprehend the man, police called in a helicopter and a K9 unit and proceeded to search the surrounding area, which included a heavily wooded area and a residential neighborhood.
Let's pause here for a moment to consider the course of action. Police called in a helicopter and literally released the hounds to find a man whose crime was not a crime at all - it as a civil regulatory infraction, for which the ticket could not have far exceeded $100. Through some set of circumstances currently unknown, at the worst the situation escalatied to Resisting Arrest Without Violence, which is our favorite criminal charge here at the Puppycide Database Project, particularly as in this case when it is not paired with a criminal charge for which the subject was actually under arrest.
In the 2014 Florida statutes, Resisting Arrest Without Violence is specified as a misdemeanor in Title XLVI Chapter 843 Section 02; the misdemeanor classification is crucial in this case. As we discussed in a prior post where we reviewed our current Puppycide research in the context of Fourth Amendment concerns, there is a "hot pursuit" exemption to the constitution that allows police to conduct searches on private property without a warrant when they are chasing a suspected felon, or even just someone who they have a reasonable suspicion will prove a threat to the lives of police or citizens at large. The idea here is to allow cops to chase an armed and dangerous suspect through bak yards if it comes down to it.
But this time, the "suspect" was neither armed nor dangerous. He was riding a bicycle. Without a light.
Remember how we mentioned that police "released the hounds"? Well one of those K9 cops and his handler was in the midst of conducting what we have now established to be an illegal search on the property of Michael Rivera. Rivera had nothing to do with the mysterious man on the bicycle. He just had the misfortune to own a home and a dog that happened to be in the vicinity of a man riding a bicycle without a light on it. Mr Rivera had set up one of those popular electric fences for his dog in his front yard, which allowed his dog to roam within the confines of his yard without being attached to a choke chain.
It would be misleading to describe a dog that is within the border of an electric fence, on the property of its owner, while wearing the electric fence's corresponding shock collar as "unleashed". Usually when we say a dog is "unleashed", we are referring to a dog that is not on the property of its owner, either because it is not under the direct control of its owner by some physical mechanism, or perhaps because it has run away or is a stray.
So when a Lee County Sheriff's Deputy came onto Michael Rivera's property in order to conduct an illegal search for the man with the bicycle while using a police K9, and that Deputy described Michael Rivera's dog as "unleashed" - the Deputy's description of events is, at its most charitable, misleading. Michael Rivera's dog was, literally, not on a leash. But that was because he was contained within an electric fence system and on his own property.
During this illegal search, the Lee County Sheriff's Deputy claimed that Michael Rivera's unleashed dog attacked his own K9. This may have happened; but unfortunately the Lee County Sheriff's Office has given us no reason to believe that is what happened. The K9 was not reported as having any injuries (the only news outlet reporting this story at the moment is claiming: " the K9 is expected to be okay"), and neither was the Deputy. We have already established this Deputy was performing an illegal search of a private home for a reason that is, frankly, preposterous, and used misleading language to describe the situation. These aren't the hallmarks of someone who "has nothing to hide", as police are fond of saying.
One more questionable detail from police - Michael Rivera's dog is claimed to be a "Pit Bull". This is a developing story, so the dog could very well turn out to be a Pit Bull. However, The Puppycide Database Project has seen a statistically significant trend of police and news outlets misidentifying dogs killed by cops as Pit Bulls when they are in fact a breed with a less controversial reputation. Of all of the puppycides we have reviewed, police claim that the animal killed is a Pit Bull 70% of the time. Sometimes that Pit Bull turns out to be a Golden Retriever, or a labrador. But most often, the police or animal control destroys the corpse of the animal before a necropsy can be performed by a neutral physician, even when they know the identity of the animal's owner (we will be discussing this much more in the coming weeks).
Unlike roughly 80% of the dogs shot by police the Puppycide Database Project has researched, it appears as though Michael Rivera's dog may survive. As of this writing the dog is reportedly receiving medical treatment. Unfortunately he is receiving that medical treatment from Lee County Animal Control; it is unknown at this time whether this is because they have refused to release the dog to Mr Rivera. In one of our upcoming posts, we will discuss how animal control seizures impact the survival rates of dogs who have been shot by police.
The mysterious man with the bicycle? He was never caught. Maybe they will use two helicopters for the next bicycle scoff-law.
At the beginning of this post, we talked about how this story reinforced many of the trends the Project has seen repeatedly in our research. Let's quickly go over what those trends are:
- Police perform an illegal search. During that illegal search, they are confronted by an animal that lives on that property and attempt to kill it.
- The owner of the animal who is shot is not involved with any actual criminal activity (in this case specifically, he is not even suspected of criminal activity - but as part of the larger trend, we can include wrong-door raids and those who are targetted for a raid because of someone who lived at their home in the past)
- Police claim the dog they shot is a Pit Bull, the media credulously repeats this claim without confirming it with a non-state employed veterinarian, or in this case even with the owner of the dog.
- Police escalate a non-violent situation to a violent situation - in this case, the situation is a man riding his bicycle. Absent police activity in this particular situation, Michael Rivera's dog would be alive and the community would be a better place. With police activity in this particular situation, Michael Rivera's dog is close to death and the community is a worse place.
The numbers behind these trends will be featured in our upcoming research publications.
As frustrating as seeing patterns of violence repeated over and over again, pattern recognition can be good news (to a degree). Patterns of violent behavior that are recognizable, readily identifiable and quantifiable can lead us to solutions that disrupt those patterns. Seeing many of the same mistakes made over and over again across the country also reinforce the notion that a practical, evidence-based solution could have a significant impact on the overall reduction of rates of violence.