A Centreville family whose year-old Labrador retriever was shot to death by local police investigating a barbecue violation filed a $1.5 million federal lawsuit yesterday against the town government and its Police Department.
The Hart family alleges that the shooting May 6 of their dog, Titan, fit a pattern of harassment by Centreville officers, who had repeatedly stopped family members for minor traffic violations in the months before the shooting.
"This case involves more than just the loss of Titan," Brennan C. McCarthy, an attorney representing Thomas and Arlette Hart and their daughter, Amber, said in a written statement.
"The actions by the police officers in this case were committed as part of a greater pattern of harassment that affects the entire community of Centreville and the personal liberties of its citizens," McCarthy said.
Jonathan A. Hodgson, attorney for the Queen Anne's County town, declined to comment yesterday because he had not seen a copy of the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, Titan was shot in his owners' front yard when two officers approached Thomas Hart while he was cooking a roast on a grill in his side yard.
As Officers Larry Steenken and Troy Massey informed Hart that his grill violated a town ordinance prohibiting open flames, the 70-pound dog slipped out of the family's front door and approached the police.
The lawsuit alleges that when Titan playfully jumped at the two officers, Massey ran behind the officers' cruiser and Steenken pulled his service revolver, then shot the dog in the side of the head.
The complaint said the Harts had been stopped at least four times by police for minor traffic infractions between December and May. After the first stop, Thomas Hart filed a complaint with the Centreville Police Department.
After Titan was shot, local police conducted an internal review of the incident. McCarthy said yesterday that the review found the police acted properly, but the family's attorney questioned the independence of the report.
"It did not appear to be genuine," McCarthy said. "It had cover-up written all over it."