A jury awarded a Glen Burnie family $1.26 million Tuesday after deciding that an Anne Arundel County police officer wrongly shot and killed their dog in 2014, attorneys for the family said.
Attorney Cary J. Hansel called the shooting of Michael Reeves’ dog, Vernon, by Officer Rodney Price “senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
“The verdict sends a strong message to the police about … community expectations,” Hansel said in a prepared statement. “The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well.”
Anne Arundel County officials declined to comment. In 2014, an internal investigation exonerated Price and found that the dog was aggressive. Price is still an officer with the department, according to a police spokesman.
Vern was shot on Feb. 1, 2014. Price said he was attacked by Vern at the Reeves home. The jury found that the officer was not attacked by the dog, and that the shooting violated Vern’s owner’s constitutional rights and was committed with gross negligence, Hansel said.
At the time, police said Price shot and killed the dog while investigating a burglary. Price, a one-year veteran of the force at the time, was canvassing the neighborhood looking for witnesses around 4 p.m.
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When Price went to a home in 900 block of Lombardee Circle in Glen Burnie, the dog — a male Chesapeake Bay retriever — “confronted” the officer in the front yard, police said. Price then fired his weapon twice, killing the dog.
A few days later, the Reeves family said Price came to explain what had happened after the shooting.
The family was not involved in the burglary investigation that brought Price to their neighborhood. Vern barked and ran toward the officer, prompting the shooting, the family said.
The police department promised a full investigation and acknowledged that the shooting was a traumatic incident for the family.
Kevin Davis, who was then Anne Arundel County police chief, met with the Reeves family and offered his condolences.
A necropsy performed at the request of Anne Arundel County police showed that one bullet entered the dog’s sternum, and another bullet entered the dog’s side, at a time when the dog’s body was perpendicular to the gun. Hansel said the evidence contradicted Price’s testimony regarding how the shooting occurred.
Hansel said the jury was asked specifically if the dog attacked Price — the jury’s verdict said the dog did not.
The $1.26 million verdict includes $500,000 in monetary damages. Reeves works as a defense contractor, Hansel said, and the shooting caused him to miss a significant amount of time from work. The remaining $760,000 in damages was for the anguish caused by the shooting.
Reeves got Vern in 2009 and took one year off work then to train him. Reeves declined comment on the verdict.
“He’s very happy to have some justice for Vern,” Hansel said.