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FBI to Review Raid That Killed Mayor's Dogs

Video
Berwyn Heights, Md., Mayor Cheye Calvo and wife Trinity Tomsic held a news conference at their house Thursday, asking for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate a county police raid on their home during which their dogs were killed.Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7

Sotos said they will also probably review other search warrants served by the sheriff's office and county police in recent years.

An attorney came forward yesterday to allege a possible pattern of animal abuse by the sheriff's department. Michael Winkleman said he is representing another family whose dog was shot by sheriff's deputies in November, along with a woman who is suing the department for searching her home without a warrant and threatening to shoot her dog.

In the first case, Winkleman said, sheriff's deputies arrived at the Accokeek home of Frank and Pamela Myers with a warrant for another house on their street. After the couple informed the deputies of their error, they continued to question the couple and looked around their home.

As they spoke, the couple's 5-year-old German boxer began barking in a yard, out of sight. Soon after, according to Winkleman, the couple heard gunshots, and they found the dog shot to death. He said the family is preparing to file suit.

In another case, Upper Marlboro resident Amber James has filed a $4 million lawsuit accusing sheriff's deputies of searching her home without a warrant in May 2007 while looking for her sister, who lived in Capitol Heights. According to the suit, deputies falsely claimed to have a warrant and searched every room of the home. When they did not find the sister, the suit alleges, they threatened to return the next day and search again, saying that if they did, James's dog would be dead.

Some lawyers and leading law enforcement groups said deputies should have known to do everything possible to avoid killing Calvo's dogs.

Courts across the country in recent years have ruled that it is almost always unacceptable for police to kill pets in the course of searching a home. Cases in three federal circuits have found that killing pets amounts to unreasonable seizure.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop a lawsuit by the Hells Angels motorcycle club after police in San Jose killed three guard dogs during a 1998 raid. That case, which also involved police taking items from the group's clubhouse, resulted in $1.8 million in settlements.

"It was the fact that the dogs were shot that made the public sympathetic to the Hells Angels," said Karen Snell, who was the club's attorney during the case and has since successfully tried similar cases.

Killing dogs is considered a "last resort," said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, a group that provides tactical training for police departments and is advocating a national accreditation system for SWAT programs.

The group recommends that SWAT teams develop multiple plans for dealing with animals during a raid. "You have a plan so that, first, maybe you hit it with a fire extinguisher, and if that doesn't work, maybe you give it a good swift kick into an adjoining room and close the door," Gnagey said.

Yesterday, Calvo also called on the sheriff's office to release photos taken the night of the raid of the two black Labrador retrievers, which he said would prove the dogs did not engage deputies as Jackson said Wednesday. He said the children of 3,000-person Berwyn Heights would testify to the dogs' gentle nature, and he said deputies had killed them "for sport."

He also asked Jackson to take back his suggestion that the SWAT team was justified in raiding the home without knocking first, ordinarily required by law, because his mother-in-law had screamed upon spotting officers. That suggestion shifted blame for the no-knock entry onto her, Calvo said.

Police had been tracking the package since Arizona, where a police dog had alerted them to the presence of drugs. It had been left on the porch by police posing as deliverymen and was later seized unopened from inside the home.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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