The headline in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune reads, "Dangerous Dogs are a quandary for police," but the story beneath tells us that "Poorly trained police are a hazard to dogs, their owners, themselves, and three year old girls".
Oh, the story begins well enough for the police, with the tale of an officer who, in safeguarding himself from two dangerous pit bulls, wounded a fellow officer by shooting him in the leg. But there's a buried lede:
The shooting of two dogs during a police raid on April 13, 2011, has led to a civil lawsuit against the city by their owners, James and Aisha Keten.
The couple's three-year-old daughter was eating breakfast at the kitchen table in the Humboldt Avenue North house when police entered the front door on a warrant. As soon as the officers entered the house, they shot and killed one dog, Kano, in the living room, then moments later fired "multiple, hollow-point rounds towards the kitchen table, killing another of the Keten's dogs," Remy, that was lying beneath the table, the suit alleges. The Ketens say neither dog displayed aggression and the bullets passed very close to the 3-year-old.
The officers then restrained James Keten, 28, with plastic zip ties and beat and kicked him in the head, neck and face while he lay on the floor, the suit alleges. After a search of the house, Keten was not arrested or charged with any crime.
The city of Minneapolis denies that its officers kicked James Keten in the head, neck and face, but it admits that Officer Chad Fuchs was aware that a three year old girl was sitting at the table even as he fired multiple, hollow point rounds in her direction.
Fortunately only the dog was killed.
The story illustrates one of the most common forms of journalistic malpractice: taking the police at their word. Reporters, as much as lawyers, are aware that police lie all the time, and yet so seldom do journalists apply the sort of admirable scrutiny we've seen applied to law enforcement in the Trayvon Martin case to the ordinary, humdrum police work of firing multiple, hollow point rounds at stationary dogs and the three year old girls who own them.
Such as questioning whether the dogs officers shoot are really dangerous.
Or whether the officers who say they're justified in the shooting dogs are people of good, honest character.
Or whether the threats good, honest officers face justify any force whatsoever, much less deadly force.
On the other hand, perhaps these are dangerous questions. Unlike accused drug dealers and people who against all reason and sanity draw weapons on heavily armed police officers, dogs are friendly animals, beloved by most Americans. If the media were to look into the facts behind the case every time a police officer shoots a dog, someone might call for that level of scrutiny every time a police officer shoots a human being.
And who knows where that could lead?