Boise police say dog’s shooting was justified

Her owner is raising questions about authorities’ version of events and the officer’s use of force.

kterhune@idahostatesman.comOctober 22, 2013 


    Local law enforcement have killed other dogs in recent years. The shootings include the following:

    • In September 2012, Nampa police shot a pit bull-mastiff mix named Junior after it and another dog attacked an officer during a welfare check at its owner’s home. Junior’s owner told the Statesman that he didn’t “blame (the officer) a bit” and would probably have made the same call in that situation.

    • Another Boise officer shot a pit bull in April 2012 when it ran at him after its owner let it out the front door as officers approached a house. Pierce Murphy, Boise’s community ombudsman at the time, later said the officer acted reasonably.

    • Caldwell police killed a pit bull in April 2010 while searching a house for drugs. According to police, the dog charged and barked at officers before it was shot several times.

    • In March 2010, Timothy Wade, an off-duty Ada County sheriff’s deputy, shot a Queensland heeler running loose in Meridian after he said it acted aggressively toward him. Prosecutors chose not to file charges against Wade.

    • Also in Caldwell, officers trying to arrest a fugitive shot a pit bull that attacked a police dog in February 2010.

Boise police officers were investigating a theft in the area of North 28th Street and Woodlawn Avenue on Sunday when Kita, a 2 1/2-year-old lab and pit bull mix, started barking.

Owner Gabrielle Stropkai said she had let the dog out to use the bathroom as she sat outside her apartment with neighbors. Stropkai said the dog had become more wary of strangers since giving birth two weeks ago.

“She barks at people she really doesn’t know,” Stropkai said.

Police claim that Kita charged toward the officers, snarling and acting aggressively. One officer shot the animal in the back of the head when she was less than 3 feet away.

Stropkai contested the police account. She said Kita was walking back toward the entrance of Stropkai’s ground-level apartment when she began to bark at the officers, but did not charge or act aggressively toward them.

The officer asked Stropkai and her friends to whom the dog belonged. Then, according to Stropkai, he immediately pulled his weapon and fired, killing the dog in front of her 2-year-old son.

Stropkai and her neighbors tried to staunch the bleeding, but it was too late. Kita never made it to the vet.

“I ran towards her and grabbed her face, but you could already tell,” Stropkai said.

“I felt her take her last breath, and she was dead.”

Police spokesman Charles McClure said the officer was within his rights to use lethal force to protect himself if he felt the dog was somehow a threat to him.

“As with every citizen, a person has a right to defend themselves,” he said.

The pet was running loose in front of the apartment, a violation of the city ordinance that requires dogs to be leashed, he said. Stropkai was not cited.

McClure said there’s no indication the shooting was inappropriate, and he noted that independent witnesses to the shooting said they saw the dog acting aggressively.

Stropkai said Kita had never bit anyone and was not a threat to the officer. Stropkai said she had the dog since it was 5 weeks old, and Kita had always displayed an even temperament.

Stropkai also said that if Kita had been charging, she would have been shot in the face or chest. Instead, the bullet entered the back of the dog’s head and exited through her stomach.

An investigation into the shooting is ongoing, McClure said. Officials plan to conduct a review of the use of force policy, as is typical in this type of incident, he said.

McClure said there’s no estimated date for the investigation to be completed.

Neighbor Kenny Taylor was outside with Stropkai when the shooting occurred. He said Kita began to bark after the officer asked about the dog’s owner.

“I was already headed down the sidewalk, and boom,” he said. “There was no time to get the dog, nothing.”

On Monday morning, Stropkai’s 2-year-old son rode his bicycle around the small parking lot in front of the apartments, circling past the spot where Kita’s bloodstains were still visible on the pavement. Inside, six puppies slept together in a crate. Stropkai said she has to bottle-feed them every few hours.

All of the puppies have been claimed, she said, but they are too young to go to their new homes. For now, Stropkai and her friends are just trying to keep the 2-week-old dogs alive and healthy.

Pete Ritter, Boise's deputy police chief, called Kita’s death “unfortunate.”

“Officers never want to harm an animal,” he said in a statement. “The dog came upon the officers quickly and they felt it was about to bite them. This is a very dog-friendly community. Many officers have dogs. We work with dogs. Dogs running loose are a safety risk, for people and for the dogs. This was a very unfortunate situation for everyone involved.”

Stropkai asked why the officer, if he truly felt threatened, didn’t deploy a Taser or pepper spray rather than lethal force.

“You could have kicked my dog away from you and she would still be here,” she said. “She could have a broken rib or something, and I would take care of her, but she would still be here. He didn’t have to kill her.”

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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