When a Colorado police officer arrived at an empty lot where Wendy Love and her husband, Jay Hamm, had parked their truck to let their three dogs stretch and drink water in June 2019, the law enforcement agent did not announce himself, a new lawsuit alleges.
But then Herkimer, the couple’s 14-month-old puppy, jumped out of the truck and began running toward the officer. Seconds later, Officer Matthew Grashorn fired two shots at the puppy. Herkimer fell to the ground instantly as Love came to his aid, video shows.
“Why did you do that?” Love said through tears.
“I don’t know, because he’s coming after me like he’s going to bite me,” the Loveland Police Department officer replied.
Despite the couple’s pleas, Herkimer was not taken to the vet until Grashorn’s supervisor arrived at the scene about eight minutes later, according to court records. The Staffordshire terrier-boxer mix had to be euthanized four days later. The couple were charged with a “dangerous dog” offense, which was later dismissed by the district attorney’s office.
In a lawsuit filed this week, the couple allege that Grashorn used excessive force on the “sweet,” “loving” and “playful” dog, which they say had no history of biting or being aggressive toward humans.
“Herkimer was clearly a friendly dog and not dangerous to anybody,” the couple’s attorney, Sarah Schielke, told The Washington Post. “He looked like he was curious and excited to greet this officer, and watching him get shot in the head and fall down was traumatic.”
She added: “The only thing that could be worse than watching a video like this is watching a video like this and not doing anything about it.”
According to the suit, the department reviewed the video and found that the officer responded appropriately. Grashorn is still on the force, court records state.
Grashorn has not yet responded to the complaint in court. A spokesperson with the city of Loveland was unable to immediately provide a response to The Post but said the city was reviewing the complaint.
This is the third lawsuit Schielke has filed against officers with the Loveland Police Department in the past two years. The department has made local and national headlines for allegations of excessive use of force — all of them recorded by officers’ body cameras.
In June 2020, an officer was recorded tackling a 73-year-old woman with dementia who walked out of a Walmart without paying for $13.88 worth of items. The woman suffered a broken and dislocated shoulder. That officer and another involved in the arrest were later charged after a video was released of them mocking the woman while she remained in the precinct’s booking jail for hours without receiving medical aid.
The following month, officers were recorded piling on top of a man in a Target parking lot. The officers were responding to a call asking that the man, who suffered from mental health issues, be removed from the property. Police said the man resisted the arrest.
And last month, the city of Loveland reached a $290,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against the police department that alleged a man’s wrongful arrest in September 2019. The incident was also captured on an officer’s body camera.
Love and Hamm had spent most of June 29, 2019, delivering firewood along with their three dogs, Bubba, Max and Herkimer, the lawsuit states. Around 5 p.m., the couple parked their truck in the corner of a commercial building’s parking lot so their dogs could get out of the car after a long day, court records state.
What the couple did not know was that the owner of the building, who was looking at his surveillance video remotely, had called Loveland police to report the silver truck, according to court records. He told the dispatcher that someone had previously tampered with his lock and that, although the couple was nowhere near it, he wanted police to investigate “what they were up to,” the lawsuit states.
While in the parking lot, the couple let each dog out of the truck to drink water. Bubba stayed on the ground napping; Max, who was known to wander, was tied to a tree; and Herkimer returned to the back of the truck.
When Grashorn arrived moments later, he stepped out of his vehicle unannounced and pulled his gun within one second of Bubba standing up, his body-camera video shows. Grashorn pointed his weapon at Bubba, and the dog retreated. That’s when, out of “excitement,” Herkimer jumped out of the truck’s back seat and ran toward the officer to greet him, the lawsuit states.
The officer then pointed his gun at Herkimer, who continued running toward him, before he shot the dog once in the head and once in the body.
“Why did you have to shoot him?” Hamm yelled as Herkimer lay on the ground bleeding.
“He’s a puppy!” Love cried.
“I didn’t know that!” Grashorn yelled.
Once Love was by his side, Grashorn repeatedly ordered her to “get away.”
“He will bite you. He’s hurt,” he said of the puppy.
When Love asked Grashorn if they could take Herkimer to the vet, he replied, “Ma’am, you’re not going to be able to help him,” the video shows.
Later, when the officer walked to the couple’s truck, the lawsuit states, Hamm demanded to know why the officer would shoot a “clearly friendly dog.” Grashorn responded that he had “no way of knowing” that, adding that he was not “in the business to get bit.” Hamm demanded to know why the officer did not use a stun gun on the puppy instead of a firearm. Grashorn replied that shooting the dog “is the only thing that always works,” the lawsuit states.
Body-cam video of Grashorn inside his patrol vehicle shows the officer talking to his supervisor about which charges to file against the couple. His supervisor can be heard saying they can scratch one charge, “which will make them happy because they already said they are going to call the media.”
Once Herkimer was taken to the vet, the lawsuit states, officers told the veterinarian that he was a dangerous dog “that had attacked one of our officers.”
Schielke, the couple’s lawyer, told The Post both Love and Hamm became depressed after Herkimer’s death. They ultimately chose to file a civil suit against the officer; his supervisor, Sgt. Philip Metzler; Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer; and the city of Loveland because they hope to change a department that “needs to be cleaned out.”
“The pattern needs to stop,” Schielke said.