To Serve and Protect

As family shrieks, police kill dog

COOKEVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Police video released Wednesday showed a North Carolina family kneeling and handcuffed, who shrieked as officers killed their dog -- which appeared to be playfully wagging its tail -- with a shotgun during a traffic stop.

The Smoak family was pulled over the evening of January 1 on Interstate 40 in eastern Tennessee by officers who mistakenly suspected them of a carjacking. An investigation showed James Smoak had simply left his wallet on the roof of his car at a gas station, and motorists who saw his money fly off the car as he drove away called police.

The family was driving through eastern Tennessee on their way home from a New Year's trip to Nashville. They told CNN they are in the process of retaining a lawyer and considering legal action against the Cookeville, Tennessee, Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol for what happened to them and their dog.

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In the video, released by the THP, officers are heard ordering the family, one by one, to get out of their car with their hands up. James Smoak and his wife, Pamela, and 17-year-old son Brandon are ordered onto their knees and handcuffed.

"What did I do?" James Smoak asks the officers.

"Sir, inside information is that you was involved in some type of robbery in Davidson County," the unidentified officer says.

Smoak and his wife protest incredulously, telling the officers that they are from South Carolina and that their mother and father-in-law are traveling in another car alongside them.

The Smoaks told CNN that as they knelt, handcuffed, they pleaded with officers to close the doors of their car so their two dogs would not escape, but the officers did not heed them.

Pamela Smoak is seen on the tape looking up at an officer, telling him slowly, "That dog is not mean. He won't hurt you."

Her husband says, "I got a dog in the car. I don't want him to jump out."

The tape then shows the Smoak's medium-size brown dog romping on the shoulder of the Interstate, its tail wagging. As the family yells, the dog, named Patton, first heads away from the road, then quickly circles back toward the family.

An officer in a blue uniform aims his shotgun at the dog and fires at its head, killing it immediately.

For several moments, all that is audible are shrieks as the family reacts to the shooting. James Smoak even stands up, but officers pull him back down.

"Y'all shot my dog! Y'all shot my dog!" James Smoak cries. "Oh my God! God Almighty!"

"You shot my dog!" screams his wife, distraught and still handcuffed. "Why'd you kill our dog?"

"Jesus, tell me, why did y'all shoot my dog?" James Smoak says.

The officers bring him to the patrol car, and the family calms down, but still they ask the officers for an explanation. One of them says Patton was "going after" the officer.

"No he wasn't, man," James Smoak says. "Y'all didn't have to kill the dog like that."

Brandon told CNN Patton, was playful and gentle -- "like Scooby-Doo" -- and may have simply gone after the beam of the flashlight as he often did at home, when Brandon and the dog would play.

The Tennessee Department of Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, has said an investigation is under way.

Cookeville Police Chief Robert Terry released a statement on the department's Web site Wednesday night describing the department's regret over the incident.

"I know the officer wishes that circumstances could have been different so he could have prevented shooting the dog," Terry wrote. "It is never gratifying to have to put an animal down, especially a family pet, and the officer assures me that he never displayed any satisfaction in doing so."

Terry said he and the vice-mayor of Cookeville met with the family before they left "to convey our deepest sympathies" for the loss of their dog.

"No one wants to experience this kind of thing, and it's very unfortunate that it occurred," he wrote. "If we had the benefit of hindsight, I'm sure some -- if not all of this -- could have been avoided. I believe the Tennessee Highway Patrol feels the same way."

The department is conducting an investigation to determine what, if anything, could have been done differently, he said. Police also plan to be in contact with the Smoak family, Terry said.

The Smoaks buried their pet at home. A white cross marks the grave.

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17 Responses:

  1. kyronfive says:

    that is deeply fucked up.

  2. mitch showed us this last night.

    of course, this sent off a ten-minute round of distraugt yelling in southern accents: "you shot my dog! jesus, tell me, why did y'all shoot my dog?"

    like so:

    i sense that we are indeed bad people.

    • jwz says:

      I laugh because the world makes me hurt real bad inside.

      • i have the perfect cure for you:

        (this was my favorite one when PLIF was printed in my student newspaper at UW.)

      • waider says:

        The world's a great place, full of warmth and love. That's why I watch the various stories about The War On Terror™ on Sky News (part of the Great Murdoch Empire) in the morning, and why I listened with grim amusement to the talking head on the radio this evening who was talking about the US Presidential elections next year; her basic summary was that she didn't believe that Dubya was unbeatable, but she wasn't offering many alternatives to back up that belief. Hurrah for the two-party system! Hurrah for Federal Matching Funds If We Think You're Ok, Which We Don't! Hurrah the Republocratic Demicans!

        Oh wait, I'm not living in America. I can ignore all this, right?

        • jwz says:

          Oh wait, I'm not living in America. I can ignore all this, right?

          Yes, I'm sure your colony is far enough on the outskirts of the Empire that you are well beyond the reach of Corporate Hegemony. Go back to sleep.

          • waider says:

            Hey, we haven't been a colony for, uh, 80 years now. And we've all these indigenous companies like Microsoft and Intel and Sun and Oracle to keep us afloat in these hard times.

            Besides, every time I fall asleep I get woken up by an AC130 flying overhead on its way to Shannon Fuel Depot^W^WAirport.

  3. psymbiotic says:

    Just one more reason for me to be mistrustful towards cops!

    Egan >:<

  4. westyx says:

    but there is some leeway as to who is at fault (and also a lack of information).

    Some of the things that are missing before i could make a solid judgement:

    1. Was the interstate closed down? Would the dog have proved a hazard to traffic on the interstate?

    2. How many cops were at the scene when the dog got loose?

    3. Why is there mention of a second dog? "....doors of their car so their *two* dogs would not escape... " (emphasis mine).

    4. What are the exact positions of the cops/family/dog when it all started, what is the track of the dog, and what are the positions of the cops?

    5. Where the car windows down? Would it have stopped the dog jumping out? (i.e. would an officer have had to close the windows as well, meaning that he/she would have been unable to assist in securing the suspects (cos that's what they still were)/vulnerable as hostage material? (i.e. would he/she have been in a lane of fire from another one of the officers if the suspects decided to do something?

    6. Had the suspects been searched for weapons?

    7. Was the car clear? Had it been searched for possible hiding carjackers?

    The cops wanted to secure the situation (they thought there had been a carjacking). That means clearing the vehicle and securing all the inhabitants. (They should have closed the door, yes).

    The dog then jumps out and it's tail is "wagging". What is wagging? The cops were shouting i would think to keep the family on the ground. The family is yelling "don't shoot the dog". The family (the ones the dog would want to protect) are in positions of submission on the ground, while the cops (unfamiliar to the dog) are standing in threatening positions with regard to the dog. The whole shebang is on unfamiliar territory (the interstate) to the dog.

    Then we have "...As the family yells, the dog, named Patton, first heads away from the road, then quickly circles back toward the family..". So you have a yelling family, a dog that then runs away and *circles back*, (assumption here, see question #4) putting it close to a cop. Now, that sounds fairly threatening (to the cop) to me. And if there were only a few officers, then the cops have/are losing control of the situation - they are going to start having problems covering all threat avenues (family + dog).

    Depending on how everything was laid out, and if all the questions' answers point to a situation such as i describe, i feel the cop was justified is shooting the dog.

    The doors should have been closed, yes. It means that the dog would have been unable to get out of the car (assuming that the windows were up, there was the manpower and it wouldn't have conflicted with an officer's line of fire).

    I would have killed the dog in that situation. The dog was an unknown threat, moving at speed, presumably from the officer's rear, in a situation that as a dog i would find at the very least strange and at the most hostile to my owner/alpha members of my pack.

    • jwz says:

      Well, I'm really fucking glad you're not a cop then.

    • ntang says:

      Video of it's available here:

      http://www.tennessean.com/local/archives/03/01/27473390.shtml?Element_ID=27473390

      A few things.

      1.) There were more cops than victims, combined. They could've secured their victims and still closed the doors. In fact, one of them even did close one of the doors, as far as I can tell. That's sort of useless since no one closed the others, though. (By my count, 5 cops, 2 adult victims. Hardly threatening odds.)

      2.) The dog was a foot-long bulldog. It looks like it might have been, in extreme circumstances, harmful to an 8 year old. Didn't look particularly threatening to a fully grown, armed cop, esp. when backed up by a bunch of his buddies.

      Note: not pitbull. Bulldog. Like this:

      3.) Most policies are useless unless judgement is used. Police are supposed to use their guns (especially a freaking shotgun!) only under extreme circumstances, last I checked. They're still, in theory, supposed to protect and defend the populace, not hunt it down. The dog hopped out of the car and skipped over to the cop. It was whining, sounded a little hungry or something, but it definitely wasn't growling. We're not talking about a massive german shephard or something, foaming at the mouth, or even a lean, mean pitbull or doberman, we're just talking about a tiny little whiny bulldog.

      4.) It wasn't from the officer's rear. Pretty much all of them were facing it when it happened.

      5.) If you ever decide to become a policeman (or a dog), as a public service, I ask that you shoot yourself immediately. At least then people will have a fighting chance.

      • westyx says:

        I first read the cnn story linked, and was unable to view the video (subscibers only). I then posted my comment.

        I had thought that it was a medium to large dog, and had no idea of the situation as presented in the video.

        After ntang's comment, i went and searched the internet and found the video concerned.

        1. I was wrong in not searching further for more information.

        2. The officer should not have shot that dog.

        There is nothing more that i can say about the matter. I acted stupidly and without information. Please forgive me.

        • Don't feel bad. I also thought it was reasonably handled given the facts. "Meanwhile, the Cookeville Police Department has instigated a third-party examination of the situation. A police chief in Gaithersburg, Md., will conduct an independent investigation. Officer Hall has been reassigned to an administrative position pending the outcome of that investigation."

          Not sure they'd do more if a human was shot and killed.

  5. thesliver says:

    Hmmm when I woke up this morning I was in a cheerful, optimistic mood, now I want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head until the Apocalypse has moved on.

  6. I'm heading off to my evidence class early to show this to my professor, who will likely use it for our class in the near future.
    Will loop back if anything novel arises, but doubtful - sadly more of the same.

  7. maddstarr says:

    Hello,my name is Eric Dalton and on 1/7/04, my dog Sheba was shot and killed by the San Diego Police. Sheba had gotten into the neighbor's backyard and they had freaked out. In the event, they called "911" and not the animal control and within several minutes SDPD arrived at the scene with a shotgun already cocked in its gage. I have witnesses across the street from where we live saying that Sheba was chased out into the street by the officer. Sheba sat down and the officer stepped back and shot her once. Sheba fell to the ground, twitching and obviously still alive. The witness said, "Man, put her out of her misery! She's still alive!". And the officer just brushed him off and said, "Don't tell me how to do my job!". However, several minutes pass and the officer shoots a second time. Sheba was the love of my life. She was my best friend, my queen and my baby. She was a great athlete and companion. She liked to skateboard and spend endless days at beaches and hung out with all my friends and I during our long days of surfing all along the Coast of California. She will be greatly missed. I want some direction in this situation. I feel like I have a very strong case going for me here. This is really hard for me to endure, and I know that in the long run I will. But right now, it's still so fresh. I am confused, sad, angry and in disillusion. I plan to take further action but I am trying to utilize whatever sources I can. It's just really hard right now because I miss her so. You can contact me at the provided numbers at any time with any feedback, advice and/or information you can give me at: cell 858-752-7686 and voicemail 888-566-2199. You can also contact me at my email at maddstarr@hotmail.com. Please contact me at anytime for I am desperately seeking help to take action in brining Sheba's killer to justice.Thank you so very much and God bless.