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Officer trying to serve warrant shoots dog

October 16, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A Hagerstown Police officer attempting to serve a warrant related to a stabbing shot a dog Thursday morning on North Mulberry Street, Chief Art Smith said Friday.

The incident was being reviewed to ensure it was lawful, in compliance with department policy and whether it highlights any issues with training, Smith said.

"Any time we injure a dog like that, it's regrettable," Smith said.

However, officers do have to protect themselves, he said.

"Nothing about this appears not routine," Smith said.

As police tried to serve a warrant for Travis Vinson at 519 N. Mulberry St. at about 7 a.m. Thursday, a dog became aggressive, Smith said. The dog did not belong to Vinson, but to one of the man's neighbors, Smith said.

The dog is a 6-year-old black Labrador retriever named Targa, according to Ashley Gesford, 15, a member of the family that owns the dog. Targa was shot in the muzzle and the bullet lodged in his throat, 17-year-old Danielle Gesford said.

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Officer Jesse Duffey is the officer who shot the dog, Smith said.

Usually, when an officer uses his weapon on an animal it's in the case of a deer hit by a vehicle, Lt. R. Reynolds said Friday evening. He's been with Hagerstown Police for 29 years and couldn't think of a similar incident in which an officer shot an aggressive animal, Reynolds said.

When dealing with aggressive animals, using mace just makes the animal more mad, Reynolds said.

In this case, the dog was acting in an aggressive way and shooting was justifiable under the department's policies, Reynolds said.

Targa was taken to Park Circle Animal Hospital in Hagerstown before being transferred to a facility in Frederick because he needed surgery to remove the bullet and repair the damage, Gesford family members said.

Targa was using a breathing tube and catheter Friday afternoon, the Gesfords said. The dog will be held for observation over the weekend and another evaluation of his condition will be made Tuesday, the girls' father, Charles Gesford, said.

"It's totally unnecessary what happened to my dog," Charles Gesford said, suggesting that police could have asked someone to take the dog inside.

Gesford owns the building and serves as the landlord. He could have provided police with a key to Vinson's apartment, he said Friday evening.

"The city is 100 percent responsible," he said.

Officers told Gesford to bring the final veterinary bill to the police department.

An internal decision will be made about reimbursing the medical expenses, Smith said.

"As long as they pay for it. That's really all I'm looking for at this point," Charles Gesford said.

"An apology would be nice," he added.

Other than what he called "their tragic screw-up" involving Targa, the police department handled the situation well and was helpful in making the initial arrangements with Park Circle Animal Hospital, Charles Gesford said.

A woman at Park Circle Animal Hospital said she could not comment because of doctor-patient privilege.

Targa is protective, Danielle said. The girls described him as their guard dog, but said he would lick people and jump but never hurt anybody.

The officers came in the fenced-in backyard where Targa was lying on the porch, the girls said.

The whole family heard the shot, and Danielle was the first to find Targa. He was in the rear of the backyard, "thrashing around" and pawing at his muzzle, she said.

"I don't think they have the right to come in our yard and shoot our dog," Ashley said.

The officers could have just come to the front door and asked for a key, she said.

Vinson was not home at the time police tried to serve the warrant, but he was later taken into custody and charged with first-degree assault and other offenses.

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