Officer in dog park shooting of Bear-Bear acted in self defense, lawyer says

Humane Society will help police with investigation

August 05, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

The off-duty federal police officer who fatally shot a Siberian husky in a Severn dog park has been placed on administrative leave while county police investigate the incident, but through his lawyer maintains that he fired his gun in defense of his pet, his wife and himself.

Citing their investigation, Anne Arundel County police still have not named the officer, who they said fired his personal weapon in the shooting Monday of Bear-Bear, a brown-and-white husky who died a few hours later.

Police, who did not provide a report, said they initially closed the incident amd there was no evidence of criminal activity. They did not respond to questions about other circumstances surrounding it.

The officer's attorney, David Putzi, declined to identify him, citing online threats made against him and his family. However, Putzi provided some information about his 32-year-old client, who he said fired his weapon only when faced with an aggressive dog whose handler "could not or would not" step in to stop an attack on the officer's dog, a German shepherd named Asia.

The account is very different from the one offered by Rachel Rettaliata, the husky's owner, whose brother had taken 3-year-old Bear-Bear for their daily trip to Quail Run community dog park.

The investigation into the dog park shooting was reopened Wednesday on the demand of County Executive John R. Leopold.

On Thursday, the Humane Society of the United States joined the investigation after offering to lend its expertise and resources to the county police department. Justin Scally, a Humane Society investigator, expects to begin Friday morning with what he called a "very difficult investigation" into the only fatal shooting of a dog at a dog park that he knows of.

Meanwhile, thousands of online posts from people across the country and two Facebook pages have expressed support for the owners of Bear-Bear, and a gathering in was held at the park Thursday evening.

Earlier in the week, some had speculated that Asia, the German shepherd, may have been a police dog, but county police said Thursday that that wasn't the case.

Putzi said his client served about two years in the Army and is a sergeant in the Army Reserves who has completed two tours in Iraq totaling 26 months, and has worked for about three years as police officer.

"There is absolutely no history on him being some sort of renegade or flying off the handle," Putzi said. Rather, he received the Army achievement medals and two Army commendation medals, and was nominated for but did not receive a Bronze Star, Putzi said.

Maryann Hodges, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the Army and Marine base in Northern Virginia, said the civilian police officer was placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure, because of the Anne Arundel County investigation.

Putzi said his client's dog, Asia, is a pet adopted through a rescue group. The man came to the park with his wife, who had the dog on a leash.

Bear-Bear and Rettaliata's brother were the only others there, according to his account. The couple asked if Bear-Bear was friendly, and after being told yes, they allowed the dogs to interact, Putzi said.

The dogs played briefly, then separated. But when Bear-Bear approached again, Putzi said, the situation changed.

"This dog was trying to get the dog down by the neck, the jaws of the husky were around the German shepherd's neck," the lawyer said. When the couple tried to intervene, the dog became aggressive toward them as well, Putzi said.

When Rettaliata's brother did not take control of the husky, Putzi's client shot the dog, the attorney said.

In responding to the officer's account, Rachel Rettaliata said, "If I were in his shoes, I probably would tell them the same thing."

Her pet, also a rescue dog, has a history of being friendly, she said. Her brother told her that the dogs began to play roughly and that the off-duty officer asked him to call off the dog. But before he could move, the officer shot Bear-Bear, she said.

"In my personal opinion, a firearm never had to come into the picture," she said.

Both sides said they welcomed the addition of the Humane Society to the investigation.

Scally, the investigator, said the organization regularly helps police departments with cases involving animals. Scally said he also hopes to do some work with Quail Run dog park.

"Working with the community is a big part here," he said. "We hope to help them make the park safer."

When word of Bear-Bear's fatal shooting became public Tuesday, police said the matter was closed and there was no evidence of a crime, evoking public criticism. On Wednesday, County Executive John R. Leopold, saying he was "deeply troubled" to hear of the shooting, said he contacted Chief of Police James Teare to insist on a full investigation.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jill Rosen contributed to this article.

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