Body Cam Shows Moments Before Cop Shot, Killed Pet Dog
VERNON TOWNSHIP — Police today released body camera footage from a Saturday incident in which an officer shot and killed a pet dog after it ran out onto the street in front of the owner's house.
Shared to the Vernon Township Police Department Facebook page, the footage shows the officer, Ptl. Emanuel Rivera, talking with a local resident who had called in a complaint of an aggressive dog. The video also shows another neighbor, telling him the loose dog belongs to a house next door.
The dog then is seen running onto the street and toward Rivera, who yells at the dog to back up twice. The video shows the officer's firearm in his hand, as he yells "back" twice before the video was cut is cut.
"The body camera footage in its entirety is being withheld due to privacy concerns and the ongoing investigation," the police department said when it shared the video. New Jersey 101.5 has submitted a public records request for the complete footage.
Before the video's release Monday afternoon, the owner of the lab-greyhound mix told New Jersey 101.5 the dog had no history of aggression.
After viewing the footage herself, Jennifer Hearon said she had no other response at this time.
Hearon said her family adopted "Hiro" three years ago Monday. She said there was no way the 60-pound dog had rabies, as he was up to date on all his vaccinations. Hearon said given the heat on Saturday, around 89 degrees, the dog might have been drooling.
The person who called in the complaint said that a dog was running loose in the neighborhood and had come close to him, while growling, police said.
According to police, after the responding officer spoke with the neighbors, the dog ran up to him and began to aggressively charge toward him, without listening to commands to stop. The officer then drew his gun and shot the dog, killing it, police said.
On the video, the gun is first seen about two or three seconds after the dog is first heard barking, but before the officer issues it repeated commands of "back up" and "back."
The dog's owners said early Monday, before the police department made its post, they too were waiting to view the officer’s body camera footage, as well as hear a 911 call from the incident. New Jersey 101.5 has also requested a copy of that call.
Another local resident of the lake community, Jim Fedorko, told New Jersey 101.5 when he saw the dog earlier that day, walking around the neighborhood, its tail was wagging and it did not appear aggressive to him.
Fedorko thought the loose dog was lost, so he called Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery and went out to run some errands. He said when he came home, his wife told him about a dog being shot by an officer on the street.
Fedorko said the description he heard from police after the dog's death that it was "vicious and aggressive and it was foaming at the mouth did not sit right" with him.
By late Sunday, Buddha Dog Rescue & Recovery Asher Nicole Asher said requests were submitted for the officer's body camera footage, and animal rescue volunteers already had spoken with a few witnesses.
One person the group spoke with said Hiro had been in his own yard when the officer arrived, and Hiro followed the officer out into the street, Asher said.
Hearon said the dog had been outside in the yard that day getting exercise, when he apparently broke from his lead, which "he had done once or twice before."
She said those times, Hiro came back to the yard. Hearon said on Sunday she "heard a pop" and thought the sound was from a neighborhood kid lighting firecrackers.
But, then a neighbor called and said the Hearon's dog was just killed.
When Hearon went outside, she said, two other officers had blocked off the road. She said a sergeant told her that the dog had been foaming at the mouth and charging at the responding officer, and the officer discharged his weapon and killed Hiro.
She said the pet was the "sweetest dog in the world," an over-energetic puppy who never showed aggression and just wanted to give love.
The family has spoken with an attorney.
Hearon said she thinks the dog being shot was a excessive and unnecessary use of force and "this is not something that should have happened."
Vernon Mayor Harry J. Shortway shared the police department's initial press release Sunday, while also adding "The death of a pet is always sad no matter what the circumstances and our thoughts and prayers for comfort are with all parties involved. More information will follow when the investigation is completed.“