A Missouri police chief has opted to resign amid outrage after he fatally shot a dog at a police firing range.
Sparta Police Chief Andrew Spencer will leave the department Monday following a November incident in which he captured, shot and killed a lab-pitbull mix, violating a city ordinance. When city leaders asked him to step down, Spencer decided to resign, officials said.
“It’s a very sad and unfortunate thing that happened,” city attorney Harry Styron told the Springfield News-Leader.
Spencer got a call Nov. 10 that a dog was running around and barking at people in a residential neighborhood in Sparta, near Springfield, the Springfield News-Leader reported, citing a police report that was reportedly posted and later removed from the department’s Facebook page.
Officials later said the document had been “released prematurely.”
According to the News-Leader, Spencer said in the report that when he and a citizen volunteer arrived at the scene, a man told them that he intended to shoot the dog because children would soon be walking through the area on their way home from school.
Authorities said the dog was barking but did not bite anyone.
“I did not want to destroy the dog if we could help it, and certainly did not want to destroy it in a neighborhood where it was possible children were watching,” Spencer wrote. “I also told him discharging a firearm in such close quarters was dangerous as well as illegal.”
He said he used a “catcher pole” to capture the dog, then put it into a crate.
Spencer, the newspaper reported, said he tried unsuccessfully to contact several dog shelters as well as animal control, then decided he needed to find “the cheapest vet to destroy the dog at the cost of the city.” While attempting to find a veterinarian, he said he was called to a car crash, according to the News-Leader.
“Due to the higher priority call and the imminent destruction of the dog,” he wrote, “I decided it was best to destroy the dog and respond to the accident.”
He said he took the dog to the department’s firing range and shot it in the head.
He said he went back later to bury it, according to the News-Leader.
Spencer could not immediately be reached for comment.
The dog’s owner, Elizabeth Womack, told ABC affiliate KSPR that her 16-month-old pet, Chase, escaped from her back yard Nov. 10. It wasn’t until days later that she learned it was dead, she said in a text message to The Washington Post.
Chase, she told KSPR, “was just such a playful little pup. He had no aggression. He didn’t know what that was.”
When she called police to find out why her dog had been shot, Spencer told her he was “forced to destroy” it, he wrote in the police report, according to the News-Leader.
Womack said the police chief should have contacted her before he put the dog down. Although Chase did not have tags, she said he was microchipped.
“I trusted this dog with everything — with my son,” she told KSPR, adding that her young son now sits in the dog’s kennel and calls for him.
Sparta Mayor Mike Younker called the animal “a stray” and said a city ordinance stipulates that strays — even pitbulls, which are prohibited — must be held for five days to give owners the chance to claim them.
“He took it out and shot it, which violates the city ordinance,” Younker told The Washington Post.
Spencer, who was described by city leaders as a “fine policeman,” was put on leave last month, according to the News-Leader. Womack told KSPR at the time that she wanted “justice.”
“I don’t think he deserves his place,” she said. “If he can’t even do what’s right with an animal, would he do what’s right with a human being?”
Spencer’s resignation was announced this month.
“We are heartbroken,” Womack, the dog’s owner, told The Post. “And we’re upset that [Spencer] got the chance to resign.”