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Kirby: As a former cop who killed some dogs, I'll weigh in on Geist case

Published June 28, 2014 9:24 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I killed somebody's dog once. Actually, I killed several somebodies' dogs. Of the three I killed up close and personal, I acted in what I believed was self-defense in my official capacity as a police officer.

I didn't always get off easy. In the worst case I ended up with a dislocated thumb and a cast. The dog that did that was a licensed, pedigreed hunting dog that didn't want to go to the animal shelter. I shot him.

Then I killed a dog that came after a homeowner and myself because we were trying to shoo it away from the man's children, whom the dog had previously attacked.

It's fair to ask why I didn't defend myself with a nightstick or some other nonlethal means. Had I carried my nightstick every time I got out of the car, I might have.

But this was back in the '80s, when nightsticks weren't collapsible, a time when bringing a club out of the car with you often was interpreted by people as a sign of a predetermined beating.

The one I still feel the worst about was a dog that was just trying to protect its property. Unfortunately for the dog, I'd been sent there on a domestic violence call in which the husband had told the dispatcher he'd kill any cop who showed up.

It was dark as I approached the front gate. I could hear the wife screaming inside the house. Just as I started to push on the gate, a snarl and a snapping set of teeth came over the top of it. I hit that dog in the head with my flashlight … and accidentally killed it.

Two of the three owners didn't think their dogs had it coming. One even suggested that getting randomly bitten was a de facto part of a cop's job, like getting shot or run over.

I've also had my own dog shot. Years ago when I was still a cop, my dog got loose and pursued a farmer's livestock. The farmer did what he was legally entitled to do in order to protect his property: He shot and killed my dog.

I told you that stuff to tell you this: Few things are as simple as they initially seem. That doesn't stop people from trying to oversimplify them, particularly when they're overwrought and weren't there.

I wasn't there when the officer shot Sean Kendall's dog Geist last week, so I don't know what happened. I do know some other things, though.

Among the dog cases I investigated as a cop were those of children who wandered into neighbors' backyards and were mauled by the owners' dogs. So when an officer is looking for a missing child, going into backyards makes sense.

Lots of people have legal access to our yards without our permission, including city workers, mail carriers, meter readers, fire-and-rescue people and cops. Our dogs don't get a free pass at them.

But property rights are a relative concept to the aggrieved. I'm betting some of the same people complaining about the officer being in Kendall's backyard also complained that SLCPD officers didn't kick in (illegally, by the way) every door in the neighborhood back in 2006 when Destiny Norton went missing and was later found murdered.

What happened in Kendall's backyard is being investigated. If the officer did nothing illegal or against policy, he should be exonerated. If he didn't, then he should get officially "bitten."

In the meantime, maybe we can all do a little less howling about what we think we know but don't.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.