Police question if officer in dog shooting was legally allowed to carry gun

Anne Arundel County police say the investigation is continuing

August 06, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Police said Friday that they expect to conclude in the next 72 hours their investigation into the fatal shooting of a Siberian husky by a federal officer at a Severn dog park, and they indicated that the unidentified officer might not have been authorized to carry a firearm.

Police, who did not previously provide a report, released a redacted version detailing the shooting of the husky, named Bear-Bear. But the department still has not named the officer, who they said fired his personal weapon in the shooting.

Police released a statement Friday saying that after further investigation, the officer's "legal authority to carry a firearm became questionable."

Police initially closed the incident, and said that the state's attorney's office, after reviewing the case, instructed the officers not to file charges.

The investigation into the dog park shooting was reopened Wednesday at the behest of County Executive John R. Leopold, who said a "thorough investigation is warranted." He said, "The priority is to insure the dog parks are safe havens for the dogs and their owners."

A representative from the state's attorney's office could not be reached for comment Friday night.

According to the police report, the unnamed officer and his wife told police that they were at the private Quail Run Community Dog Park with their leashed dog Asia when Bear-Bear approached. He said the dogs started to smell each other, and then the husky became aggressive.

The officer said he yelled at Stephen Ryan Kurinij to remove Bear-Bear, the report said. The officer told police that when he attempted to pull his dog away, the husky began to "grit his teeth and bite his dog around his neck," according to the report.

The officer then shot the dog once with his Glock 9 mm loaded with "hydroshock" bullets, and Kurinij went over to Bear-Bear and appeared "out of it," the officer told police.

Kurinij told police that "Bear and Asia seemed to be getting along," and that "Bear is a friendly dog and has never had any problems at the dog park."

When Kurinij's brother-in-law, Ryan Keegan Rettaliata, Bear-Bear's owner, was notified and came to the park, the responding officers said he was "very irate and aggressive towards us," the report said. Those officers said Rettaliata asked, "Which one of you cops shot my dog?" After he calmed down, the report said, Rettaliata carried the wounded dog to his Jeep and drove him to the Anne Arundel Emergency Veterinary Emergency Clinic, where he died. He later apologized to the officers for his behavior.

Rettaliata also asked police if the shooter could legally have the weapon. The responding officer told him, "He is allowed to carry a weapon due to the fact that he is a federal police officer."

David Putzi, the officer's attorney, said this week that his 32-year-old client was acting in self-defense in an attempt to stop an attack on his dog. The officer served about two years in the Army and is a sergeant in the Army Reserves. He has completed two tours in Iraq totaling 26 months, and has worked for about three years as police officer, according to Putzi.

Joseph LaMore, a former prosecutor now in private practice who is not involved in the case, said if the off-duty officer was criminally charged, the charge as well as a claim of self-defense or defense of others would have to be very specific to the circumstances.

Animal cruelty, either the less serious misdemeanor or the felony aggravated cruelty, might be potential charges, but, LaMore said, "it still requires that there is some unnecessary or unjustifiable action [on the defendant's part]. That's why these cases are very fact-specific."

If the man believed he and his wife were in danger, he could use force, "even deadly force," to protect himself and her, LaMore said.

If the dog was being savaged and the people were not attacked or did not feel menaced, "you still can use force, or even deadly force if you think it's reasonably necessary," he said.

That also depends on the circumstances, such as what options the man had, he said. At least one concern in dog attacks is that there isn't really time to call 911, he said.

"The bottom line is, it sounds like it would be a tough case to prosecute," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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