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Austin Cop Mistakenly Kills Dog: Could Cisco Have Been Saved?
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
Published April 17, 2012
Seven-year-old Blue Heeler Cisco, was shot and killed by an Austin police officer at the wrong address.
Place yourself in this situation: It’s a Saturday afternoon. You are playing Frisbee with your dog in the backyard. It’s a nice, quiet, calm day in your neighborhood. You’re relaxed, your dog is happy.
You decide to get something from your truck in the driveway of your front yard.
You walk around the side of your house, look up and you are startled to see a police officer standing on your property.
Upon seeing you, the police officer suddenly raises his gun, screaming loudly, “Show me your hands. Show me your hands!”
In the blink of an eye, your dog, hearing the commotion, comes around the house, barking.
“Show me your hands! Get the dog!” the police officer shouts, giving conflicting orders with a gun drawn.
What do you do? Get your hands up and freeze or do you take the chance the police officer will not shoot you as you move to get your dog?
That’s exactly what Michael Paxton, a 40-year-old Austin, Texas resident said happened to him and his 7-year-old Blue Heeler, Cisco.
Video coverage is out of range for Austin Police Department Officer Thomas Griffin’s dash cam, but audio captures that in a split second, as soon as the officer simultaneously orders Paxton to show his hands and get the dog, a shot rings out, hitting Cisco in the chest and killing him almost instantly.
Paxton is understandably confused, upset and in shock, as he’s heard on Griffin’s police dash cam after the shooting, “What did you shoot my dog for? I live here. What are you doing here!?”
Austin police were given an incorrect address on a domestic violence call.
When Griffin finally asked if Paxton had a girlfriend after the shooting, Paxton is heard to respond on the video, “No, I don’t have a girlfriend; I just live here with my dog that you just shot!”
What is shown in video on the camera is the officer turning off his lights and siren several blocks before reaching the home. He pulled up to the front of Paxton’s house silently. Paxton couldn’t have possibly known there was a police officer at his home when he entered his front yard from the back of his house.
The officer then exits his vehicle and the last thing seen on the video is the officer unholstering his gun with his left hand.
On Sunday, friends of Paxton’s put up the Facebook page, Justice for Cisco, which had grown to over 38,000 “likes” as of this writing and continues to grow by the minute.
Paxton could not be reached for comment for this article and Austin police have said they will not second guess as to why Griffin entered a yard with a gun drawn, rather than at the ready with a TASER or pepper spray.
Paxton is understandably devastated over the loss of his best friend. Paxton told one media outlet he doesn’t have kids of his own or much family. Paxton said Cisco was his “baby boy.”
Paxton has also indicated he doesn’t want money or for Griffin to be fired. “I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Paxton said.
The Bigger Picture
In this article on change.org, the writer laments that police need to go through dog sensitivity training and cites six different instances in the U.S. in which dogs were killed by police in the past year, including a Miniature Dachshund; a Labradoodle wandering as a stray the police said they couldn’t catch; a dog in its own back yard that witnesses said wasn’t even barking; and three dogs in one California city over the course of a month.
It seems only logical that this become part of every police officer’s training, with 62 percent of the U.S. population owning at least one pet, 78 million of them dogs, and 90 percent of police officers serving communities with more than 100,000 people.
Victoria Schade, a dog trainer and petside.com advisory board member, was shaken after watching the dash cam video and said she has only heard of one police academy that has started giving a “basic overview” of dog body language.
Petside.com couldn’t find any national statistics with regards to how many agencies actually provide any dog sensitivity or dog body language training to its cadets.
“The core of the issue is that an officer can use deadly force on an animal if he feels threatened,” said Schade. “An officer without any training in dog body language could feel threatened by a barking dog.”
Schade added that it would have taken an owner with an “extraordinary presence of mind” given the situation Paxton was in with a gun drawn and an extraordinarily trained dog to be recalled at that stressful moment.
“The dog was obviously startled by this menacing figure appearing out of nowhere, yelling,” said Schade. “How many dogs would have been trained so effectively?”
If Griffin had dog sensitivity training, would things be different? If Griffin could have read Cisco’s body language, would he have reacted differently?
Dog Sensitivity Training for Police
“I definitely think it would have played out differently,” said Schade. “If the officer had training in dog behavior, he might have had more confidence in reading the dog’s body language.”
If Griffin had that training, imagine this scene. Griffin exits his car, walks toward the property calmly, hand on gun in preparation for impending danger, but not drawn.
Paxton comes around from the side of his house.
Griffin asks calmly if Paxton lives here with a girlfriend or wife. He might say in a calm voice, “Please keep your hands where I can see them.”
As Cisco rounds the house, barking, Griffin tells Paxton to restrain his dog. Not fearful of being shot because a weapon is not pointed at him, Paxton complies, calming Cisco easily as there isn’t anyone yelling or acting in a threatening manner. The mix up on the address is talked out between the two men.
Cisco and Paxton go back into their house, exhausted from their play. Griffin goes on to the right address and resolves the domestic disturbance complaint.
Do you believe police officers should be required to take dog behavior training as part of their training as police officers? What do you make of this incident after watching the video?