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Owners of Willy Pete taking legal action against department who killed their dog

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Jeremy and Ginger Sweat, the West Virginia family whose arthritic 6-year-old beagle/basset mix was shot and killed during a manhunt, are taking legal action against the department responsible for their dog's death.

The entire transcript, found here (no problem with PDF), describes the actions taken by West Virginia State Police Special Response Team on June 24, 2014. Jeremy describes the events that took place that day stating

"At approximately 1pm my wife put our oldest daughter down for her daily nap in the nursery. When she came out she noticed 6-8 men dressed as soldiers come out of the woods and into the gravel road in front of our home with a K9. Our dog Willy Pete, a six year old beagle/basset mix was asleep on his pillow right outside our front door, and directly beneath the window that Ginger was watching from. The K9 unit was barking when Ginger watched Willy Pete get up and leave the porch toward the officers. Ginger watched as one of the men raised his rifle towards Pete. She immediately ran outside to the top of the steps of our porch and began screaming for them to not shoot our dog as he would not hurt them."

West Virginia State Police were searching for a man named Jonathan jeffers, who they allege shot at an officer during police response to a domestic violence call. Jeffers fled police and ended up in the wooded area near the Sweat's rural home.

Willy Pete approached the officers after hearing their K-9 unit barking. Ginger, who saw her beloved dog shot, says Willy Pete was returning to his family after the first shot was fired. Instead of allowing the dog, who was in poor physical condition due to arthritis, to return to the house, he was shot three more times.

Ginger watched as Willy Pete ran to the back of the house. He gasped his last breaths, and was beyond help, once police were done with him. This is the third dog West Virginia State Trooper Harper has murdered in the last four years.

The Sweat family started a Facebook page, Justice for Willy Pete, where they have a following of over 9,300. The family has retained the counsel of Richard B. Rosenthal, General Counsel for The Lexus Project and Maxwell Hiltner of Mills, Mills, Fiely & Lucas.

Jeremy and Ginger intend to pursue federal action against the WV state police seeking an injunction to require officers be trained on how to handle encounters with domesticated animals as well as establish a requirement for independent oversight of future incidents.

This is where things get interesting. After Willy Pete was shot, an officer came into the home. According to the family, the officer wished to bury Willy Pete

"Ma'am we couldn't let our dogs fight. We are dog people too. Where is your shovel so we can bury him."

Was this being considerate and remorseful, or an attempt to destroy evidence? Any time a family dog is shot retreating, the owner needs to have a necropsy done on the body to prove the dog was going in the opposite direction of the officer. Perhaps the WV State Police knew this.

According to the incident report

"Sgt. S.T. Harper shot Willy Pete three times within 3-5 feet as Pete continued to advance."

However, the family is in possession of a necropsy report which clearly shows their dog only had one entry wound and no exit. This means that by their (WVSP) own admission they must account for the other two bullets that are not in Willy Pete.

Ginger refused the offer to bury Willy Pete, waiting on her husband to arrive home. She was more concerned as to why officer's were firing toward her home while her youngest daughter was in a living room chair by the window, where she witnessed her dog being murdered.

The family has also refused the WVSP offer of a voucher from the local Humane Society.

The WVSP also states information about Willy Pete retreating from officers as "fictitious." When the Sweat family asked for an independent investigation, WVSP claimed the family was inciting violence toward police.

A media statement by WVSP gives their version of what happened.

"Based upon his observations that Willie Pete’s hackles were raised, he was growling and his teeth were barred as well as the fact that the dog could not be deterred by two other means of non-lethal force from advancing toward K-9 Officer Diego and the WVSP SRT members, Sgt. Harper made the decision to shoot the dog."

Part of the statement given was to remind everyone

"There is a leash law in Mason County prohibiting dogs from running at large. At all times during the incident K-9 Officer Diego was on leash."

Nice going, officer's, you murdered a 6-year-old arthritis hound dog while on the dogs own property. Trooper Harper, why do you keep shooting family dogs? Since you're gaining so much experience in dog confrontation, how about trying something that won't kill.

To support the Lexus Project on this case, click here to donate.

For other Examiner articles on dogs shot by police, this takes you to the writers website.

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