Merced County this week rejected a $1 million claim for damages from a man who said a law enforcement officer killed his dog without explanation, and now the man’s attorney says officials are withholding information and reports about the incident.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously rejected the claim, which cited pain and suffering of the Dos Palos man in connection with the killing of his 5-year-old Samson, a pit bull terrier. The claim also said an officer urinated on the Dos Palos property, which belongs to 61-year-old George Aguaristi.
The incident, which was caught on surveillance video, happened May 30 and Merced County officials still have not explained why they entered the fenced-in yard in the 20000 block of Reynolds Ave., according to Alex Friedland, Aguaristi’s attorney.
“Why did they come to his property?” he said. “We’re trying to establish what reason did they have to come onto George’s property that day, and thereby give them the authority to kill his dog.”
Friedland confirmed his client now plans to sue Merced County over the incident.
The home has “Beware of Dog” and “No Trespassing” signs on the front gate. Friedland said it’s unclear exactly which law enforcement agencies were there that day, though one Merced County District Attorney’s Office investigator left a business card.
The Merced County Counsel’s Office did not hand over the report taken by the District Attorney’s Office, Friedland said. “I’m afraid that when they found out we had video of what actually happened there they don’t want to give the report that was originally made,” he said. “I’ve never been denied a report like this before from a government agency.”
The office also declined a public-records request by the Sun-Star for the same report.
The office insists it’s exempt from releasing the report to Aguaristi’s attorney or the Sun-Star, according to Merced County spokesperson Mike North. “This is not unusual as such documents are part of an ongoing investigation and protected by attorney work product privilege,” North said in an email.
The video from May shows an officer wearing a gun and what appears to be a bulletproof vest approach the door of the house. When the dog comes down off the porch and stands between the officer and the steps, she sprays him with something, which appears to agitate him. He advances on her and she shoots him at least once, the video appears to show.
Officers carry the dog away and one of them uses a garden hose to clean up a pool of blood, the video shows. A separate camera catches what appears to be an officer urinating near a fence.
There is precedence for cities and counties paying pet owners whose dogs were killed by police. Officials in Santa Clara County, for example, agreed to pay almost $1 million in 2006 to Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members after killing three of their dogs during a raid several years earlier, according to the Associated Press.