Officer Lawrence R. Eckenroth shot the 13-year-old Doberman in the mouth after the dog lunged at the officer on the back porch of Mike Reiter's Westside residence.
The dog survived the attack, but only after vets at the Westside Animal Hospital performed emergency surgery.
The officer entered Reiter's back yard, on 715 N. Walnut St., because Reiter fit the description of a suspect in a series of car heists in the area, said police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms.
Police now say it was a case of mistaken identity and that Reiter is not a suspect in any crime. But the shooting of Dancer, as the dog is known, has raised anger and concern among residents.
"This was just really upsetting; that the officer's first reaction is 'He's guilty, pull the gun,' rather than pursue a less dangerous course," said Allison Bendixen, who lives across the street from Reiter.
Bendixen also questioned why the officer was poking around in Reiter's back yard prior to the attack. "Why didn't the officer come to the front door?" she wondered.
Reiter is asking the same question. "You can go in any yard here and get in trouble with a dog," said Reiter. "I just think if you're not sure the person is a criminal, try the front door."
Reiter said the whole thing went down after he dropped off his girlfriend at work at about 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, then drove home.
"I was upstairs, and I looked out the back window and saw a cop out there," he said. "When I started going down the steps, I heard a gunshot. When I got downstairs, I see my dog bleeding from the mouth ... I went berserk. I'm like, 'What in the hell warrants this?' "
The day after the incident, Eckenroth returned to the neighborhood, visiting with Reiter and other neighbors in an attempt to explain his actions. Residents said they were impressed by the gesture. "He earned some points; he didn't have to do that," Bendixen said.
Eckenroth would not return phone calls from the Independent, but police spokesman Arms said the officer had little choice but to shoot the dog.
"Not until the officer made a noise at the door did he become aware of the dog," he said. "When the dog came at the officer in an aggressive fashion, he did not have an escape route."
The officer could not use his pepper spray to subdue the dog, because he was using the hand closest to the spray to protect himself from the lunging dog, said Arms. The only means of protection within reach was his gun.
Arms said the officer has not been disciplined, but that the incident is under a routine review. "Whenever there's a discharge of a firearm, there's an internal or administrative review," he said.
As for the officer's right to be in Reiter's back yard, Arms said the officer was justified, because he was in "fresh pursuit." It appeared to the officer, said Arms, that Reiter was fleeing from the officer.
Reiter adamantly refutes that assertion. "I didn't even know I was being followed," he said.
Meanwhile, some residents are concerned, since the dog shooting was the second time in the last week that police drew guns in the neighborhood.
"Two days earlier, this guy was being pursued by five patrol cars down Monument Street and crashed his vehicle into the curb," said Bendixen. "He got out of the car and started running. There were about a half-dozen cops running through the neighborhood, chasing the guy down the street with their guns drawn."
The incidents have shaken up the neighborhood, where some residents feel they're too easily typecast as potential criminals, because they live in a middle- to low-income neighborhood.
"We're upstanding citizens, but I'm not sure we're perceived that way," said resident Jennifer Swan, adding that there are also a half-dozen children living on the block. "Would the officer have chosen his gun over mace in another neighborhood, like Rockrimmon?"
Residents said they intend to start an official neighborhood-watch program along with local officers. "I do not want to start a war against the cops," said Reiter, who is still several hundred dollars short of covering Dancer's medical bills. "But maybe they should have a little less free rein in the neighborhood."
Donations are being accepted at the Westside Animal Hospital for Dancer, who needs jaw reconstruction work and still has a bullet lodged in her jaw.
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