Friday, January 30, 2009

Pinellas deputy, owner differ on why he shot chow-pit bull mix

Lee Ann Hutts, 32, of St. Petersburg grieves for her dog Smoke, a chow-pit bull mix, at her home on Thursday. She says a deputy knocked on her door around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, looking for a caller who reported a burglary, then shot her dog.

ST. PETERSBURG — A Pinellas County sheriff's deputy knocked on Lee Ann Hutts' door Tuesday night and her dog, Smoke, started barking incessantly.

Within moments, the deputy pulled out a gun and shot Smoke in the head.

That's about all Hutts and the deputy agree on.

The deputy says Smoke attacked him, and he shot in self-defense.

Hutts said Smoke was barking, but never attacked the deputy. An eyewitness backs Hutts' account.

Smoke died the next day. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is investigating.

"We have a call in to (the deputy's) supervisor," said Connie Brooks, a local SPCA investigator. "You know, sometimes they see things a little differently."

Hutts, 32, and her neighbor Tina Morrow said deputies came to their mobile home park on 28th Street N investigating a burglary report. Unable to find the right home, a deputy went to Hutts' door.

Hutts, who takes care of a disabled sister-in-law and lives with her fiance and roommate in her mobile home, said her 9-year-old chow-pit bull mix was barking when she opened the door but stopped when she told him to be quiet. She tried to put him in another room but he followed her out. Smoke kept barking but never left her side, she said.

The deputy was agitated, she said, and kicked her dog. Then he shot him.

"I damn near passed out," Hutts said. "I had blood all over me, I was screaming."

The deputy left, she said.

Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha offered a different account based on an incident report from Sgt. Robert McGuire and a supplemental report from a backup deputy.

McGuire, a 24-year veteran, wrote that when he knocked on Hutts' door he could hear a dog barking. When Hutts answered, he asked her to secure the dog. The dog appeared to charge him, so he shooed the dog with his foot.

"He believed the dog was going to bite him," Pasha said, so he shot him in the head.

The deputy was unaware that Smoke died. Pasha asked a reporter how the dog was doing and was told he had died.

Hutts said she and her sister-in-law took the wounded Smoke to Noah's Place 24-Hour Animal Medical Center on 62nd Avenue N. Unable to afford the $3,000 she was told surgery would cost, Hutts left with a prescription for pain medication. She took the dog home and stayed up all night with him. Smoke died in the morning.

Cathy Miktuk, the property manager at the mobile home park, Suncove Apartments, said the entire neighborhood is upset. Everyone loved Smoke, who barks a lot but was never aggressive, she said.

"We've all got dogs, and a lot of us watched what happened," Miktuk said. "Why didn't they just mace that dog?"

Miktuk called the SPCA Tuesday morning and helped gather statements from witnesses.

The SPCA's Brooks said it routinely investigates when law enforcement shoots a dog. "We'd like to talk to the officer, because it's a complaint like any other complaint," she said. "But we realize officers are out there protecting people."

Hutts' neighbor who watched the shooting is angry that the Sheriff's Office didn't check on how the dog or Hutts were doing.

"This was her family pet," Morrow said. "He was a total sweetheart. There's a gazillion cats around here, and they're not even scared of him."

The deputies never found the caller who reported the initial incident, Pasha said.

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