District Attorney Clears Princeton Police Officer In Fatal Dog Shooting

District Attorney Susan Doyle announced Thursday her office has determined the fatal shooting of a dog by a Princeton police officer last month was ‘reasonable use of force’.

The investigation involved multiple witness interviews, review of 911 calls and a review of the police department policies.

On August 12th, 911 dispatchers received numerous calls about a dog running at large on Pine Street.  One caller described a “pit bull growling at her as she ran up on her porch.”

Officer D. Toole responded and found what he described as an “aggressive” dog and requested Johnston County Animal Control respond, however the dog ran away, the District Attorney’s report stated.

While Officer Toole was out talking to a witness who may have seen the dog, the dog returned and the officer observed the dog attempt to bite one of the witnesses.

The officer used his air horn in an attempt to scare the dog, but the dog became more aggressive.  The officer then fired his weapon at the dog but did not strike the animal.  The dog ran off again.

Officer Toole continued to patrol the area in an attempt to locate the dog.  The officer located the dog in front of 406 S. Pine Street.  As he exited his patrol car, the dog ran toward the officer barking, growling, and showing his teeth.  The officer, fearing for his safety, discharged one round from his service weapon, striking and killing the dog.

District Attorney Susan Doyle concluded, “The officer was in compliance with Princeton Police Department’s policies. The officer was justified in shooting the dog because it was the only way the officer could stop the dog’s threat to cause bodily threat or serious injury in the short amount of time the officer had to act.”  Citing language from a controlling case, Altman v. City of High Point, “Dog owners forfeit many of these possessory interests when they allow their dogs to run at large, unleashed, uncontrolled, and unsupervised, for at that point the dog ceases to become simply a personal effect and takes on the nature of a public nuisance.”

The dog, Libby, was owned by Emily Taylor.  Immediately after the incident she claimed police were covering up the facts of the shooting.  One of the bullets fired by Officer Toole struck a parked car.  Police Chief Tyrone Sutton said the Town reimbursed Taylor for the damage to her car.

An internal investigation in August by Chief Sutton also cleared the officer of any wrongdoing saying the shooting was ‘justified.’

Here is the Chief Sutton’s report released on August 16th:

The Princeton Police Department has concluded its investigation into the incident, which resulted in the destruction of a pet on August 12th, 2018.   During this investigation, the dog in question was seen in different areas of town.  Numerous witnesses to the incident provided written statements which illustrated a consistent description of the dog’s behavior as being aggressive, and causing fear.  All of these circumstances substantiate the claims the dog was unrestrained, uncontrolled, and acting aggressively.

It is never the intention of the Princeton Police Department to cause death or serious bodily injury to any living thing in any situation.  The safety of the residents of Princeton is our first priority.  No person or animal is permitted to cause harm or fear in a threatening manner to our residents or persons in our jurisdiction regardless of circumstances causing these actions. It is common knowledge animals act differently in different areas, under different stressors, and when unaccompanied, or outside their “safe zone” or residential habitat. It is clearly understood, that aggressive behavior may be effected by different stimuli, and is not breed specific. It is also clear that fear when combined with confusion and stress may lead to behavior unexpected, or out of the norm in domesticated and feral animals.

This investigation was conducted in an objective, and thorough manner. Propriety was maintained at all times during the process. Eyewitnesses, scene investigation, and administrative investigation was employed to produce the findings. Based on eyewitness accounts, and officer statements, it has been determined the shooting was justified. All incidents of this nature gives our police department a pause to reflect upon and improve on our investigation process.

The Princeton Police Department offers our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences to Ms. Taylor for the loss of her pet.