Officer Sgt. Wilson (42) was investigating a disturbance call on Sunday. Wilson explained he heard a gunshot followed by “yelling or moaning” coming from an adjacent residence on another block. Wilson investigated and entered the private property of Victor Patino (23), who was asleep in his house at the time. Wilson encountered Patino’s 6-year-old dog Bubba in the backyard and fatally shot the dog.
The ACLU of Nevada is questioning whether Wilson had the right to be on Patino’s land under the fourth amendment curtilage exception, which protects the outdoor area immediately surrounding the home. Courts have treated this area as an extension of the house and as such subject to all the privacy protections afforded a person’s home.
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for ACLU of Nevada, stated, “The devil is in the details. If they want to make the claim that what they did was constitutionally justified because of exigent circumstances, then they bear the burden of demonstrating the exigent circumstances."
The Las Vegas police stated Monday, “Wilson was within his legal rights because he was investigating a gunshot and heard moaning or screaming coming from the backyard.”
Lichtenstein stated, “The onus is on police to prove circumstances did in fact legally justify the officer's right to be in the backyard.”
Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. John Sheahan stated in an emailed to the Review-Journal, "Because of the nature and circumstances surrounding the call, exigent circumstance exceptions to the Fourth Amendment were more than satisfied, and thus entry to the backyard was both lawful and within policy."
“No one was found in the backyard, but police found a shell casing that was a different caliber than the one fired by Wilson. No one was arrested or cited in connection to a gunshot investigation,” Sheahan stated.
Lichtenstein stated, “The police account raises a lot of questions, such as how Wilson knew with certainty which house the gunshot and screaming were coming from while he was a street over. Did police investigate other homes to determine where the yelling or moaning originated?”
Lichtenstein went on to question, “A gunshot heard from a nearby street does not amount to a legitimate circumstance allowing police access to a private backyard without permission.”
Sheahan stated, “It was my understanding Wilson was in a position to pinpoint the location of the shooting.”
Meanwhile, Patino stated Monday, “It has been a difficult day and I am trying to come to grips with the fact that Bubba is dead.”
Patino went on to stated “I am upset about many aspects of the police investigation, including the officers never knocked on the front door of my house to alert my family of the investigation. If the police had done that, we could have secured our backyard.”
"What happened was completely unacceptable," Patino went on to state, "It should have never happened. After Bubba was shot, it seemed the officers froze. We did not see them question any neighbors to find the source of the gunshot and yelling.”
Patino and his family are considering suing Las Vegas police.
Wilson remains on duty pending the outcome of the internal investigation. The investigation will determine whether he is disciplined, commended or has no action taken against him.
Nevada Voters for Animals are organizing a rally to protest against police shooting family pets.
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