A Frederick County jury returned a $620,000 verdict this week against two sheriff’s deputies after a trial that featured a video recording of one of the deputies shooting a chocolate Labrador retriever named Brandi.
The video, recorded from the dashboard camera of one of the deputies, proved crucial in helping jurors reach their decision, said Cary J. Hansel, a Greenbelt lawyer who represented the dog’s owners. “They could see for themselves what happened,” Hansel said.
Brandi survived the gunshot but faces life-long medical care and may have to have a leg amputated, Hansel said. The jury, which reached its verdict Monday, found the deputies had violated the constitutional rights the dog’s owners, Roger and Sandi Jenkins, of Taneytown. The case also turned on whether the deputies had permission to enter the Jenkins’ home as they searched for the couple’s son.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins took issue with both the verdict and harsh second-guessing of a deputy who had to make a split-second decision.
“He felt the dog was a threat. He was retreating,” Jenkins said, adding that the deputy, Timothy Brooks, “has felt bad about shooting the dog since day one.”
The events in question occurred Jan. 9, 2010. Brooks and another deputy, Nathan Rector, arrived at the house in search of the son of Roger and Sandi Jenkins (no relation to the sheriff.) The deputies were trying to serve a body attachment, which is similar to a warrant, according to the sheriff. But the homeowner wouldn’t provide a definite answer as to where his son was, the sheriff said.
At one point, Roger Jenkins told the deputies: “Let me put the dogs away and you can come in,” according to the sheriff.
One of the deputies became suspicious that the son had sneaked out the back, so he went around the side, the sheriff said. That’s when he met up with the Labrador.
Hansel said the friendly dog, already wearing a small leg bandage for an existing skin irritation, “bounded out to meet” the deputy. The deputy immediately went to his gun, even as the dog quit barking and never got within three feet of the deputy, said Hansel, of the firm Joseph, Greenwald and Laake. The family also was represented by Rebekah Lusk of the Thienel Law Firm.
Brandi provided “absolutely zero threat,” Hansel added.
After the dog was shot, Sandi and Roger Jenkins took her to a veterinarian. The deputies then entered the home and found the couple’s son hiding in a room, the sheriff said.
The sheriff examined the video early in the case and said that in and of itself, it makes the deputy’s decision look questionable. But the totality of the situation – including the statement by Roger Jenkins about putting up the dogs that implied they were a threat – played a role in what happened, the sheriff said.
Hansel said the couple had never expressly given the deputies permission to enter the house. The jury took that into consideration when reaching its verdict, Hansel said.