Dos Palos man seeking $1M after Merced County officers killed his dog
A Dos Palos man says law enforcement officers have not explained why they came onto his property about a month ago, killed his dog and urinated on a fence.
George Aguaristi filed a $1 million claim with Merced County for the loss of Samson, a 5-year-old pit bull he calls his "best friend" and "son," as well as for the pain and suffering it has caused him.
He said he woke up May 30 with a neighbor knocking on his window who said officers had been in his fenced-in yard. The 61-year-old noted he has "Beware of Dog" and "No Trespassing" signs on the front gate.
Aguaristi said he went outside to feed Samson and Delilah, another pit bull, but couldn't find the male. After finding a business card wedge in the screen door, he called the number, which was for an investigator for the Merced County District Attorney's Office.
Efforts to reach the lead investigator by phone were unsuccessful on Thursday.
It was an investigator who told the homeowner that an officer had killed his dog, Aguaristi said. He'd slept through it all.
"I was just in shock. My mind just went," Aguaristi said. "Eventually, I said, 'Is there something you needed to ask me?' And, (the officer) says, 'No, that's about it.' "
That's when Aguaristi went over the footage from several surveillance cameras around his house. Two officers, a man and a woman, wearing vests and guns entered through the gate around 8:30 a.m. that morning, the footage shows.
As the woman walks towards the porch, Samson walks down the steps and stands between the officer and the front door. There is no audio in the footage, so it's unclear if the dog barked or growled.
The officer appears to spray Samson in the face with something from a few feet away, which seems to agitate the dog. Samson advances on the officer, who pulls a handgun and shoots him in the chest or neck area. Aguaristi said he believes the officer fired a second round after the dog was already down.
Aguaristi said the officer he spoke to over the phone told him Samson was with animal control in Merced. The investigators said he wouldn't be charged if he wanted to pick up Samson's remains, or county employees would dispose of him for free.
"They kill my dog and they're acting like they're doing me a favor," he said on Thursday. "I said, 'No, no, no. That's like my son. I will be there in the morning to pick him up.' "
Later on in the footage, two officers take the dog away and an investigator uses a garden hose to wash Samson's blood off of the driveway. "They killed my dog and they stole it," Aguaristi said.
Samson is now buried on the property, Aguaristi said. A neighbor's children, who played with the dog often, made a cross for his headstone, he said. Delilah appears to be mourning her pal too, he said.
To "add insult to injury," he said, the surveillance catches an officer urinating near his fence.
It remains unclear exactly which agencies were involved, according to Alex Friedland, Aguaristi's attorney.
Cities and counties have paid pet owners whose dogs were killed by police. Officials in Santa Clara County, for example, agreed to paid almost $1 million in 2006 to Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members after killing three of their dogs several years earlier, according to the Associated Press.
Aguaristi said he wants to be clear that he doesn't hate law enforcement, but said he wants "justice for Samson." He's heard support on Facebook from people he doesn't know who have echoed that thought.
"He was a good boy," he said. "He didn't deserve that."