The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the shooting death of Michael Sluby, the 18-year-old killed last week by a Prince George's County police officer, and has scheduled an autopsy of the K-9 dog Sluby allegedly stabbed.
"We do have a civil rights investigation regarding the shooting by Officer Joseph Wing and the FBI is following all logical leads in that investigation," said Barry Kowalski, deputy chief of the criminal section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Kowalski said it was "not unusual for us to investigate shootings by police officers" as a violation of federal civil rights laws.
The dog, a 3 1/2-year-old German shepherd named Rebel, is to be exhumed this weekend from the Lakemont Pet Cemetery in Davidsonville, Md., and taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The pathology institute conducts autopsies for the Justice Department in "unusual cases," according to its deputy director, Dr. Robert Karnei.
An autopsy is to be performed on Rebel next week, according to Karnei. He said he believed the autopsy would be the first the institute has performed on a dog as part of its work for the Justice Department.
Sluby was killed last week in a vacant junior high school decorated as a Halloween haunted house that he and his girlfriend had slipped into early Friday morning. Police said they responded to a silent alarm at the school and Wing and his dog went in and confronted Sluby.
Police said that Wing shot Sluby twice in the chest in self-defense after the youth stabbed Rebel and started advancing on him with a 4 1/8 inch knife. Sluby's family has said they believe that Sluby and his girlfriend, Candace Jean Craig, who was charged with breaking and entering in connection with the incident, slipped into the school through a broken window as a Halloween prank.
A lawyer for the Sluby family, John W. Karr, who said he asked the Justice Department to investigate, said he believed an autopsy was necessary because no severe bite marks from Rebel were found on Sluby.
Dr. Margarita Korell, an assistant medical examiner who performed the Sluby autopsy, said yesterday that she saw no marks on Sluby's body other than a "little scrape on one leg" that could have been made by the dog's teeth or nails.
"It is simply not possible, according to people who are expert about this stuff, that there would have been any kind of a fight or any kind of a stabbing without the dog doing some damage," Karr said. "I'm not talking about a scratch. I'm talking about some real damage -- to the neck, to the arms, to the face . . . . "
A K-9 dog "seeing a knife or an aggressive movement of the hand is not trained to roll over and wag his tail," he said.
Maj. James Ross, commander of special operations and investigations for the Prince George's police, said yesterday that department officials "stand behind our original statement" that Sluby stabbed Rebel, and that Wing fired only two shots, both of which hit Sluby.
Ross discounted Karr's theory that Rebel would have injured Sluby if the youth had stabbed him. "The dog, from what we can put together, went after the bottom part of Sluby's leg," Ross said. "Sluby was upright and he got the dog in the neck and the back . . . . It is not surprising that the dog was killed."
The Justice Department conducts between 40 and 80 investigations yearly into allegations of police brutality, according to department spokesman John Wilson. "It is quite customary if we get a complaint to look into it," he said.