MOUNT CARMEL – A former resident's dog was shot and killed by a Mount Carmel Police officer last week during an investigation regarding the owner, Jennifer Weir's, missing property.
She had returned to her former residence on Second Street Wednesday, Jan. 16, when she said she found some things were missing and she presumed her ex-husband had taken them.
According to Weir, her ex-husband was not supposed to be present at the residence due to a protective order.
As Weir showed the Mount Carmel officer, yet unidentified, around the property to detail what was missing, she let her dogs out the back door. Her 11-year-old dog, a female American Staffordshire Terrier named Juniper, approached the officer outside. Juniper was only in the officer's presence because of a gate that Weir believes her ex-husband left open.
Weir said Juniper was shot once injuring her and then shot again, killing her. At the time the dog was killed, she was facing Weir, she said.
Weir said her dog is known throughout town and barks at people but would never bite anyone.
Police Chief John Lockhart said the officer could not know the dog's intentions and had to make a split-second decision. Normally, MCPD officers will use their Tasers on dogs first, but the officer could not reach his in time in this incident, according to Lockhart.
"The dog was on him before he knew it," Lockhart said.
The officer who shot Juniper was upset after the incident, Lockhart said. "That's the last thing we want to do," he added.
Officers in this situation don't have the luxury of hindsight and a dog's actions are the only indication of its intentions, Lockhart explained.
The responsibility falls on the owner of a dog in such situations, according to Lockhart. He said dogs must be leashed or inside an enclosure.
Lockhart maintains the dog was a pit bull. This discrepancy is not surprising, being that American dog breed authorities have no consensus over whether American Staffordshire Terriers are indeed pit bulls. The American Kennel Club does separate the breeds, but with members from the United Kingdom, where both pit bulls and Staffordshire Terriers share their ancestry, the international United Kennel Club combines the two breeds under the American Pit Bull Terrier breed.
Whichever umbrella breed she fit under, Juniper served as Weir's service dog. She has multiple sclerosis and Juniper helped her get around when she needed it. Juniper had hip dysplasia, according to Weir and was no longer able to help her, so Weir has another dog, a puppy, that was also present when Juniper was shot.
The puppy ran off when the shots rang out, Weir said.
"I honestly feel like he got startled and grabbed his gun and shot without thinking," Weir said.
Mount Carmel officer Eddie Johnson was one of the officers who responded to the incident, and he went with Weir to have Juniper cremated.
Chief Lockhart was a K9 officer for 10 years and said he has always cared for dogs. He kept the first K9 service dog he was issued after the dog retired from police work.
Lockhart mentioned a recent story from Arkansas in which an officer shot a Chihuahua and was fired from his department. "And you know something, he should have lost his job," Lockhart said, due to the size of the dog and its inability to have hurt the Arkansas Deputy in question.
The situation his officer dealt with last week was different, Lockhart explained, because of the breed and size of the dog.
Weir understood the extenuating circumstances surrounding the case, but still said she wants to see something implemented to keep it from happening to someone else.
Lockhart, who instituted body cameras for his department as one of his initial actions as Police Chief, said he had reviewed the video and closed the case.
"Unfortunately, sometimes this stuff happens," he said.