There is a pending prosecution in Maryland that continues to shock the animal rights community, and others. Baltimore police officer Jeffrey Bolger has been charged with animal cruelty for maliciously killing a family’s 7-year-old Shar-Pei, Nala. Bolger allegedly threatened to “gut” the dog and then slit its throat.
Nala had escaped from owner Sarah Gossard’s yard on Saturday through an open gate and a nearby neighbor Sandy Fleischer tried to check the dog’s tags, but Nala nipped her, causing a superficial wound. Fleischer then called police. She later said that the nip was her fault and that the dog was just scared and reacted when she tried to touch it.
The police arrived and corralled the dog and then secured her with a long dog-control pole. That when things turned horrific. Fleischer said that the police officers are being unnecessary cruel to the dog before it was killed by twisting and hurting the dog. One officer had his knee on the dog’s chest. She said the the dog was whining in pain.
Witnesses said that they heard Bolger say “I’m going to fucking gut this thing” as he got out of his cruiser. Bolger then pulled out a knife and slit Nala’s throat as Officer Thomas Schmidt held her down. Witnesses say that the dog was already immobilized against the ground. Moreover, the knife was not police issued which suggests that it was Bolger’s privately owned weapon.
BPD Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere insisted that “Officers were appalled by what they saw, as were other citizens.” After the charges against Bolger, prosecutors secured an indictment against Officer Thomas Schmidt. Schmidt is accused of holding down Nala as Bolger slit her throat.
Bolger is now suspended without pay and faces with felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, animal cruelty and malfeasance in office. His trial is set for July 28th, but I have been unable to locate any reports of the trial actually beginning (suggesting that it may have been postponed). If anyone has an update on the trial, we would be interested in following the case.
There is also a possible tort lawsuit that could be brought for negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and damage to property. In the United States, pets remain chattel and their pain and suffering is not actionable. Instead, the pet is valued at their replacement cost. Damages are secured through the pain and suffering of the owner by being such torts as intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. The fact that the owners were not present at the time of the killing could make the latter more challenging. Moreover, the negligence of the owners in allowing Nala to escape would be raised. Nevertheless, the horrific response by the officers would likely overcome the defense claims with a jury. While the police department did the right thing in suspending both officers, it would still be potentially liable under respondeat superior for the actions of the officers. A rogue officer defense will likely not work in a situation like this as a complete defense. The post hoc response however could have an impact on damages against the department.