Police probe whether pit bull shooting was justified

Police probe whether pit bull shooting was justified

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TOOELE — Police say they are going "above and beyond" to discover if one of their officers was out of line by shooting a pit bull that eventually died.

Last week, officers responded a report of a man carrying a gun near Pratt Aquatic Center, 55 N. 200 West.

"Officer (Alan) Gifford was on Tooele city park property when a large, brown dog charged after him in an aggressive manner," Tooele Police Lt. Adrian Day said.

Gifford drew his gun and pointed it at the dog. He shot the dog when the dog charged and began barking, according to police. Day would not confirm how many times the dog was shot, as the investigation is ongoing.

"We don't have to get bit," Day said. "If we perceive a threat, we're justified in shooting it. We can shoot before it bites us."

Day said the dog, "Brutus" had given people problems before.

"The first one in 2011 was the bite of a 10-year-old, and in the second one the dog was loose in the city limits again and chasing chickens," Day said.

Day said the owners had been warned each of those times to keep their dog on a leash.

A "young juvenile" was the only witness to the event other than one other officer, according to Day.

Tooele police do not dispute that Gifford shot the pit bull, but they are still investigating whether the shooting was justified, Day said.

"If an officer is going after a dog for no reason, that's going to be trouble. There's no question about that," he said.

If an officer is going after a dog for no reason, that's going to be trouble. There's no question about that.

–Lt. Adrian Day

Police have sent the dog's body on to the veterinary diagnostics laboratory at Utah State University so a necropsy can reveal specifics regarding the dog's cause of death.

An online petition, written by Denise Gordon, said the dog was playing chase with a neighbor's dog when Gifford spotted the pit bull, "saw him as a threat and shot him."

The petition asserts that Brutus tried to drag himself to one of his owners, but the officer prevented them from approaching the dog.

"The officer shot him six times from behind," Gordon said, tearfully. "Brutus was crawling to my daughter. The police would not let us get near him for 20 minutes. He was too far gone to be taken for help, so we had to put him down."

However, Day said he did not recognize the name of the woman who started the petition.

"We don't have her down as a witness. I don't know if she's hearing this from other people," he said.

The petition is calling for the department to fire officer Gifford. As of Monday night, it had more than 750 supporters.

Tooele police will release the results of the necropsy after the cause of death is determined, Day said.

Contributing: Paul Nelson

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