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Case Number: 3:08-cv-01644-RNC
Judge: Robert N. Chatigny
Court: United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Hartford County)
Description: Hartford, CT - Plaintiff Gets $202,000 For Dead Dog
Glen Harris and K. Harris sued Anthony Pia, Johnmichael O'Hare and The City of Hartford
on civil rights violation theories under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claiming that their dog was shot and killed by the police officer defendants during an illegal search of their property on December 20, 2006.
Plaintiffs claimed that their 115-pound St. Bernard was shot when the officer entered their property without a search warrant during a drive by the Hartford Police Department to reduce gun violence.
Plaintiffs claimed that the officers acted recklessly when they entered their yard.
Harris and Pia had been told by a man that they detained that there were two guns hidden in an abandoned vehicle of the Harris' property and went to the property without obtaining a search warrant.
K. Harris had just returned from school and let the dog out of the back door of the house. The dog suddenly looked up and tore away toward the front of the house there O'Hare shot it.
This is Attorney Schoenhorn (I note my name is spelled wrong in the last paragraph). There are some inaccuracies in the posting:
First, although the two officers claimed they were acting on an uncorroborated tip about guns stashed in an abandoned car in the Harris' back yard, there was no such car, no such guns, the yard was fenced, an SUV was in the driveway, and there was a "beware of the dog" signed clearly visible on the front of the house. Moreover, evidence presented by the plaintiffs showed that these officers had just been involved in an auto pursuit of a car with a stolen license plate and a hit and run accident, and the three occupants had jumped out and fled through back yards. Only two were captured, and the third was last seen heading in the direction of the plaintiffs' home, but there was no direct pursuit. Plaintiffs demonstrated at trial that the two officers were likely still looking for the third suspect who was never caught. The defendants did not encounter the drug suspect until after O'Hare shot the family Saint Bernard, who was described as gentle, non-aggressive and trained to follow commands.
The Court of Appeals previously ruled that the defendants needed a warrant to enter the curtilage of the home, and that no exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless entry. Therefore the entry and search constituted a violation of the 4th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, commonly referred to as Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.
Experts included treating child psychologist Dr. Nancy Eiswirth, PhD of Hartford; and Dr. Richard French, DVM, a veterinarian formerly of the University of Connecticut School of Veterinary Medicine who performed a necropsy on the St. Bernard the next day.
This was a two week trial, and the verdict included $170K in compensatory damages and $32K in punitive damages (this last amount might be owed by the officers personally).
Attorney fees and costs will be calculated later based upon my 10 years of litigation, including a previous trial, appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. The fees and costs are likely to exceed $600,000 or $700,000 and will continue to accrue during the post-trial proceedings.
Outcome: Plaintiffs' verdict for $202,000 including $32,000 in punitive damages from the officers.
Comments: Editor's Comment: A news report about this case reported that Schoenhor will seek $140,000 in costs and $500,000 in attorney fees for his services.