Excessive-Force Case Filed Over Lab Mix Who Dared to Sniff Police Dog's Butt

Police departments are perennially accused of excessive force--the poignant SPD shooting of Native American carver John Williams being just the latest example. Usually, however, the victims are human beings. Not so in an excessive-force case recently filed in federal court, which details the fatal shooting of a Labrador retriever mixed-breed dog named Slyder, allegedly for doing little more than sniffing the butt of a police dog.

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That is the picture painted by attorney Adam Karp in his lawsuit filed last week on behalf of a Grant County man named Nicholas Criscuolo. Karp (pictured at left) is the Bellingham attorney whose relentless quest for four-legged justice we wrote about in September.

According to the complaint (see pdf) , Criscuolo was letting his two dogs, including Slyder (pictured above), have a little off-leash fun in a Moses Lake park last January when Grant County Sheriff's deputies proceeded to make a drug bust nearby. One of the deputies was Beau Lamens, who brought his police dog, Maddox, to search a car that contained some suspected meth.

Slyder took off after Maddox, giving rise to the alleged butt-sniffing. The deputy kicked Slyder, according to the complaint, causing the dog to run back toward his owner--"tail between his legs, not charging Lamens or Maddox or any other officer." Nevertheless, the complaint says, Lamens followed Slyder and shot the dog three times, killing him.

A prior investigation conducted by the Chelan County Sheriff's Office, however, offers a different version of events. Ruling the shooting justified, the office concluded that Slyder and Maddox had been fighting, and that it seemed to Lamens as though Criscuolo's dog was returning for another round.

Grant County Undersheriff Dave Ponozzo declines further comment on behalf of Lamens and his department, saying it hasn't had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet.

The case allows Karp another opportunity to press his view that pets should be treated as more than mere property. Criscuolo saw Slyder as "an immediate family member," the suit notes, expanding at length upon studies that document the bond people have with their pets and the grief experienced when an animal dies.

Karp and his client are therefore asking not only for damages amounting to the value of Slyder but for unspecified emotional-distress damages, something the lawyer has also sought in veterinary malpractice cases. These claims are based on a variety of Constitutional arguments, including that Criscuolo was deprived of due process.

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