EL MONTE – A family expressed outrage Friday after an El Monte police officer shot their pet 2-year-old German Shepherd inside their fenced-in front yard while following up on a report of a runaway teenager. The family was forced to put the dog down following the shooting.
“I’m hurt that they would do this to my pet, but at the same time I’m angry because they act like they don’t even care. They didn’t apologize,” Luu said through a Vietnamese translator.
In an encounter recorded by a home security camera shortly after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, two police officers arrived at the home of Cathy Luu, her husband Chi Nguyen and their children in the 4700 block of Maxson Road.
The officers had an appointment to meet with Luu and Nguyen
about 3:30 p.m. to discuss their teenage son, who had apparently run away from home over the weekend, and pick up a photograph, according to El Monte police officials and the dog owners. But the investigators were delayed and ended up arriving about 4:30 p.m.
Police and the family gave conflicting reports of the events leading up to the shooting.
Police said the officers shook the gate and otherwise took care to check if there were dogs present in the yard before opening the gate and entering. But a video captured by the family’s home security camera appears to support Luu’s claim that the officers simply parked their patrol car and entered the yard without checking for dogs, despite two posted “beware of dog” signs, including one mounted to the gate itself.
After being shot, the wounded dog ran to the backyard of the home. It was later euthanized at a veterinary hospital.
The loss of the female German Shepherd, named Kiki, devastated the family, Luu said, especially the couple’s 11-year-old son.
“She was his baby,” the mother son. “He cried all night. He still cries.”
In addition to the death of the dog, family members said they were concerned about the safety of an officer firing a gun in a neighborhood crowded with children.
There were four children present at the home when the shooting occurred, and a children’s pool party was taking place in a front yard across the street, according to the family and the video.
“What if my son ran outside behind the dog?” Luu said. “When I think about it, it’s scary.”
Police were conducting an internal investigation into the shooting, El Monte police Capt. Dan Buehler said.
Police did not name the officer who shot the dog, however the family identified her as Officer A. Castillo. The officer could not be reached for comment Friday.
“From reviewing the report, it’s my opinion that the officer followed policy,” he said.
“They did go up to the front (gate),” the captain said. “There was a beware of dog sign of the gate. They did what we always do as police officers. They shook the gate. They didn’t see any dogs.”
“They looked for any signs of dogs – chew toys, dog mess, what have you,” Buehler said, adding that they entered the yard after not seeing anything indicating a dog was present.
“They walked up to the porch. They rang the doorbell. They knocked on the door. That’s when the first dog came around the house,” he said.
One of the officers is seen on the video petting the pit bull before returning to the gate, which had been left open by the officers, and closing it. The male officer was outside the closed gate when the second officer, a female, was confronted by the German shepherd.
“Then the German shepherd came from behind the house,” Buehler said. “The German shepherd came up. It was much more aggressive than the pit bull. It was growling, it was barking.”
The (female) officer remained on the porch and continued knocking on the front door with her foot as the German shepherd charged toward her, he said.
“As the dog got to about three feet of this officer, this officer had no other choice than to fire a round,” Buehler said.
The dog was struck in the side.
The video, however, depicts the officers walking up to the gate, opening it and entering, seemingly without breaking stride.
Luu said she asked the officer why she shot the dog, and why they officers simply entered the yard without calling on the phone.
Luu said the officer responded that she did not see the “beware of dog” signs, and that she did try to reach the family by phone, though Luu said she received no such phone call.
Luu said she told the officers that her dog, which was lying wounded in the backyard and vomiting blood, needed medical attention. An officer responded that the dog was okay.
Before the animal was treated, officers demanded to see license documents not only for the wounded dog, but for the family’s other dogs, Nguyen’s sister Anna Nguyen said.
The dog lay wounded for more than an hour before being taken for treatment by animal control officials, the video shows.
Buehler said animal control officials were promptly contacted after the incident.
Following the shooting, which was recorded on the video about 4:36 p.m., animal control officials are seen arriving at 5:12 p.m. The wounded dog is carried from the home by an animal control officer at 5:39 p.m.
Luu said police officials initially told her they would take care of the dog’s medical expenses, but changed their mind once a veterinarian informed them the dog would require an operation costing at least $7,000 to save its life.
Luu said she was told by a Police Department supervisor that the surgery exceeded the value of the dog, and suggested she just get a new pet.
“Maybe he didn’t have a dog and he doesn’t understand,” she said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the love.”
Unable to afford the surgery themselves, the family elected to have the dog put down, Luu said. “It’s sad.”
The family was then notified that they owed more than $900 for the treatment the dog had already received, Chi Nguyen said.
But the clinic ultimately told the family no payment was required. The family said they did not know if the city paid the bill, or if the veterinarian simply chose to forgive it.
Family members said they would like to see more remorse on the part of police over the incident, as well as a new puppy to replace Kiki.
“Maybe they should be trained better,” Anna Nguyen said of officers. “They should apologize.”
Neighbor Suzette Parrish said she was also outraged over the dog’s shooting.
“This is absolutely wrong. They shoot the persons’s dog. Then they say it’s not their fault. Then they won’t get the dog medical attention. Then they don’t want to pay for the operation that (would) save the dog,” Parrish said. “There is no justified reason for shooting that dog.
Luu said she spoke to her runaway son Thursday by telephone. He was at a friend’s home.