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Dog belonging to Tent City homeless community killed by Greenville police

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UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2013 at 6:30p.m. Interview with a witness said this is Greenville City jurisdiction, but the area of Pete Hollis Road where this occurred is under Greenville County Sheriff's Department. This was a confusing issue because part of Pete Hollis is located in the city limits.

This Examiner article on Christmas Day told of how happy the Tent City dogs were to receive gifts during this holiday season. Greenville Online reported on December 30 that a Tent City dog named Bella was killed by police.

Bella, pictured here, was very excited to receive her doggy Christmas gifts. No one realized on Christmas Day that Bella would become yet another statistic of a "vicious dog" shot by police.

According to deputy Drew Pinciaro with the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, Bella was shot around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon after police were told she was an aggressive dog.

The police tell the story of how Bella, a pit bull, charged an officer as police searched Tent City for an alleged suspect after being called to a disturbance at 900 Pete Hollis Boulevard.

Bella wasn't on a leash, and she supposedly attacked the officer as he yelled at her and attempted to retreat. Bella ran off after being shot, but unfortunately didn't survive. Not only did Bella die from her injuries, she died slowly.

One witness, who asked not to be identified, said there was chaos in the camp for at least an hour after Bella was shot. Her Tent City owner's were forced to sign a consent form to end her life.

"This same officer has been down here before shootin' at our dogs."

A member of Tent City, known as Stacy, said in an interview for this article in Examiner

"The dog never came closer than 10 feet. They gave no warning, no nothing, I was there."

More shots were fired, meaning Bella eventually died with at least seven bullets in her body.(1)

According to Stacy, police allegedly took all of the shell casings with them. Stacy also says she was threatened for unlawful use of 9-1-1 if she attempted to call for help. Bella isn't the first dog her owner has lost to being shot by police, if Tent City residents are to be believed.

This is definitely a story that will divide the Greenville community. It all comes down to whether Tent City residents will be believed, or whether those who hear Bella's story will side with the police department. Then again, it always ends up being a matter of who's most credible, with officer's winning 99% of the time.

If officer's had been cautioned that Bella was an "aggressive dog," then doesn't this make them negligent in not being prepared to face her unprepared? Yes, things happen quickly when police meet strange dogs, but with all of the dogs shot and killed by police over the past few years, officers should always be prepared with pepper spray or a Tazer when dealing with a potentially dangerous animal.

It's amazing at how postmen and utility workers deal with pit bulls on a daily basis and don't feel the need to shoot them.

Were officer's planning to shoot the suspect as well? A suspect who allegedly was on the opposite side of Tent City than where Bella lived. Were we dealing with a murder suspect here or what? How many more dogs have to die before training is made mandatory on how to approach an allegedly aggressive animal.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice publication The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters, an "insufficiently trained police officer" is

"any officer who judges a dog by its breed instead of its behavior and believes any dog coming toward them is about to attack is in need of training. So are officers who lack knowledge of animal welfare groups, skills in reading dog body language or are inept at communicating with family dogs."

The magic three-fold pattern that allows an officer to shoot a family dog includes
*No legitimate reason for police to be on the property
*Claims that contradict witness testimony
*Departments claiming everything was done according to "protocol." This may include reasoning (true or untrue) that the officer felt threatened by the dog, therefore the shooting was justified

Regardless of what happened on Saturday that ended with Bella's death and the homeless community terrified after witnessing her being euthanized by bullet, any officers involved will most definitely be cleared. Because to do otherwise admits guilt, and admitting guilt leaves a police department wide open to lawsuits.

There's a lot of bad blood right now between the police and the Tent City residents. Were their Fourth Amendment rights violated, since Bella was, in essence, taken from her owner forever?

This high-profile case where Hell's Angels sued Santa Clara for negligence after three family dogs were shot during a police raid was a major step forward for dog owner's getting justice for their murdered pets. The Angel's believed that since police knew a dangerous animal could be encountered, they were found negligent by not being prepared to deal with any animals in a non-lethal method.

A total of more than $990K was divided out between several members. Perhaps if more cases like the Hell's Angels case were pursued, the number of dogs shot by police would go down.

So whatever the cause, and whatever version of the truth you care to believe, nothing will ever bring Bella back.

Rest in Peace, dear Bella. You didn't deserve to die. A memorial (inset bottom right of photo) has been set up in her memory.

NOTE: I've been asked to only state information as it pertains to this one case. Since most of the dogs shot by police cases out there have several of the above key points that occurred in Bella's case, I feel all of this information is necessary to get a complete picture.

No, the police may not have gone to Tent City planning to execute a dog. Their good intentions don't make Bella any less dead. How many more family dogs have to die, for whatever reason, before police officers receive training on how to interpret dog behavior?

Your comments are welcome.

(1) A video recording by a witness has been sent to me by a concerned animal lover to back up the story the Tent City residents are giving.

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