9th Circuit, Animal Law, Benchslaps, Pets

City Gets Benchslap With a Rolled Up Newspaper Over Dead Dog

In 2010, police in Des Moines, Washington (fun fact: pronounced “də·moinz,” with a “z” sound at the end, unlike the Iowa version), twice Tasered a 4-year-old Newfoundland dog named Rosie, chased it out of its yard, and then shot it four times — with an ASSAULT RIFLE. This was an act of unchecked police brutality that made the Rodney King cops say, “Hey, hold on now.”

And the city recognized this and offered the dog’s owners $51,000.

But a federal judge jumped in and basically doubled the payout, accused the city’s attorneys of having “terrible writing,” and that’s not even the worst charge he levels….

Poor Rosie had gotten loose while her human associates, the Wright family, were out of town. A neighbor called the police, not because she feared the sweet tempered dog, but because she feared the dog could get hurt. Unfortunately, the police turned out to be the only threat to the dog.

The Wrights brought a federal civil rights claim on the grounds that a dog is an irreplaceable personal effect that they lost to excessive force by police in violation of the Fourth Amendment, a theory backed by Ninth Circuit precedent.

The Wrights are represented by Adam Karp, who specializes in animal law, not sure someone can build a whole practice around that. After the city agreed to pay the Wrights, they sought fees for Karp in the amount of $50,000. So, apparently, you can make a whole practice around animal law.

The city objected:

The city’s lawyers had asked that the fees paid to animal-rights lawyer Adam Karp be reduced by the amount of money that had been donated privately by friends, fellow Newfoundland owners and others outraged by the incident to help cover the Wrights’ legal bills.

Des Moines had also asked the court to determine the city did not have to pay for any fees the Wrights accrued during a yearlong battle to have the two police officers charged criminally before the Wrights filed their lawsuit in federal court.

Shannon Ragonesi, of Keating, Bucklin and McCormack, argued on behalf of the city that the Wrights’ efforts to secure an additional $50,000 from the city amounted to “persecution.” U.S. District Judge James Robart disagreed:

Robart ruled against the city on both fronts, and in doing so chastised its attorneys for unnecessary hyperbole in their briefs and propounding “ridiculous” arguments, according to a transcript of the April 1 hearing.

Documents filed by the city’s outside attorney, Shannon Ragonesi, accused the Wrights of “persecution” in their attempt to seek justice against the officers in criminal court, even though no charges were ever filed.

“The treatment of the Jews by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, that was a persecution. What Nazi Germany did in the Third Reich, that is a persecution,” Robart said. He named others: the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia by the British; the treatment of the Aboriginal people in Australia; ethnic cleansing.

Yikes. Tell us how you really feel, Judge Robart. Oh, you’re not done yet:

Robart said using that sort of hyperbole demonstrated not just “terrible writing” but a “lack of civility.”

“When someone seeks to believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are attempting to bring these people to justice, that is not a persecution,” the judge said.

“Terrible writing” and a “lack of civility?”

But to the specific argument the city made regarding the fear of “double recovery” because the Wrights also received private donations to help pay their attorney, Judge Robart put it best:

“That is not the situation we have here,” Robart said. “where people wish to contribute to a fund to finance litigation in support of the principles that they believe in, namely, don’t shoot dogs.”

Don’t shoot dogs, indeed.

Owners of Dog Slain by Police Are Awarded Attorney Fees [Seattle Times]
Lawsuit Says Police Didn’t Need to Shoot, Kill Rosie [Seattle Times]

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