A defense attorney has a question: If it's "justice" for his 16-year-old client to get 23 years in prison for shooting a retired police dog, what should happen to police officers who shoot civilian dogs?
The subject of our feature story this week is Ivins Rosier, a juvenile who was sentenced to 23 years in prison for shooting a retired police dog. The long sentence was a result of Rosier's getting tried as an adult, which made him eligible to be sentenced under Florida's 10-20-life law, which in this case required a minimum of 20 years for using a firearm during the commission of a robbery. The majority of his sentence was technically for the armed robbery, but most attention to his case and trial focused on the dog he allegedly shot -- and the actual act of shooting the dog is what made Rosier eligible for the 20-year minimum.
Despite the fact he was a juvenile at the time and maintains his innocence in regards to the shooting (he doesn't deny breaking into the house), there hasn't been much public sympathy expressed for Rosier since he was arrested in 2012. After all, this is a country where the average annual cost to maintain a dog ($2,500, according to the American Kennel Club) is more than the average annual salary in 42 countries around the world. And that's not including people who pamper their pooch with the ultimate lavishness.
But Jack Fleischman, Rosier's attorney, says there isn't always so much love for dogs when police kill them.
"We never see this kind of moral outrage from the state when police shoot dogs during SWAT raids and serving search warrants," Fleischman tells New Times. "If the state is going to give a child 23 years for shooting a dog, then there should be some moral consistency when police shoot dogs."
Although currently overshadowed by the issue of police shooting humans, dog shootings by police have gained attention in recent years. Official numbers are not kept by government agencies, but activists say the number could be as high as one dog killed by a cop every 98 minutes. That comes out to about 14 per day -- 5,110 per year.
Those numbers are estimates, and it's difficult to tell exactly how many dogs get shot -- and even more difficult to determine whether the shooting was justified -- but what is certain is that it is extremely rare for a police officer to be punished for shooting a dog.
In 2012, PBSO deputies shot and killed all three of Loxahatchee resident Kathie Thomas' dogs when the deputies came to serve an arrest warrant to her friend, Ricky Woodman.
Police said Woodman was known to not like police very much, reported WPBF, so when they saw the dogs coming toward them, the deputies said they feared for their lives and had to shoot all three of them to death. Cops also said Woodman had a shirt that read, "The only good cop is a dead cop."
Woodman said the dogs were friendly and only running toward the cops to say hello. As for his shirt, he says words on a shirt are harmless.
The shooting was found to be justified, and today, Thomas runs a Facebook page in memory of her dogs.
But not every shooting is found to be justified. New Times couldn't find any examples of law enforcement officers in Palm Beach getting disciplined for shooting dogs, but examples exist elsewhere. However, the punishments seem to be quite soft.
The severest punishment we found was in 2012, when Harrisonburg, Virginia, cop Russel Metcalf was riding his bike and decided to shoot and kill a dog who was allegedly chasing after him. Metcalf was found guilty of animal cruelty and given a 60-day jail sentence but didn't actually serve a day in jail because the judge suspended his sentence.
In July of last year, Idaho cop David Kelly shot and killed a dog who was barking at him from inside a parked vehicle with the window rolled mostly up. The shooting was found to be unjustified, and Kelly suffered a $3.15 pay cut, which put him down to $31.02 an hour.
These "punishments" seem to be the exception to the rule. Again, official numbers aren't compiled, but there are far more news reports of justified shootings than unjustified shootings. And judging by the light penalties, even unjustified shootings aren't that big of a deal.
For Fleischman, this is what's so hard to comprehend about his client getting 23 years.
"You can't get as angry as they did with my client but then do nothing when police shoot dogs," he says. "That just doesn't make sense."
But that doesn't necessarily mean Fleischman wants to see police go to prison for several years for killing dogs. That will never happen. But if police are going to have impunity in these matters, the Palm Beach attorney would like to see a fairer perspective when it comes to sentencing.
"Look, I like dogs too. I have dogs," he says. "But a human's a human. And my client was a child."
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