PSNI shooting of dog “justified”

May 5, 2014

The Police Ombudsman has found a police officer was justified in shooting a dog during an incident in Newry 3 years ago.  Dr Michael Maguire concluded in his report that the pet animal had been overly aggressive towards the constable.

Back in September 2011, The Examiner reported on the incident which happened in the Ardgreen Drive area of the city.  At the time the dog’s owners had expressed their horror  that their pet dog had been shot and witnesses told us they were also concerned that a shot had been discharged in a built up area with young children and onlookers in close proximity.

On 29th August 2011, two officers responding to a call went to a house in the area, where the officer in question reported hearing barking and shouting as he approached the front door of the house.

During his interview, the constable said a boxer type dog launched into a “sustained and aggressive attack” on him and, as he genuinely believed the dog would injure him, he fired a single round to prevent injury to himself or anyone else.

A vet who examined the dog said it was likely it had been struck by a single round which had entered its mouth and struck its teeth, before exiting through a cheek.

A woman living in the house subsequently lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office claiming the officer had assaulted her after firing the shot by pushing her to the ground, where she was unconscious for a time.

The officer denied this was the case, stating that he had not seen the woman fall to the ground and suggested that she may have fainted.  His account of events was corroborated by his colleague  who said he had also drawn his pistol as the dog ran aggressively towards him but had re-holstered it when the dog passed.

The officer who fired the shot also said he had noted that the backdrop to the shot was a grass lawn which he concluded would prevent anyone else being endangered by ricochet as it would absorb the impact of the bullet.

The Ombudsman heard how the accounts of six witnesses varied from some suggesting the officer had fired a single shot to others who maintained that two or three rounds had been discharged.  Some witness also described the dog’s behaviour as playful while others reported it as aggressive and appearing ready to bite the officer.  There were also discrepancies in witness accounts of the woman who claimed she was pushed as one witness alleged to have seen her being pushed while others only recalled seeing her on the ground.

An examination of police records revealed that only one round had been fired by the officer who, it was confirmed, was trained and authorised to use the weapon.

After considering the evidence for potential disciplinary issues, the Police Ombudsman concluded that, on balance of probabilities, there was insufficient evidence to prove any misconduct by either officer and that the discharge of the shot during the incident had been “lawful, proportionate and necessary” given the threat posed by the aggressive dog.