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Dog owners sue RCMP officer for acting as judge, jury and executioner in slain goat case

Lawyer hopes case will lead RCMP to develop policies for dealing with dogs on private property.

Jason Proctor · CBC News · Posted: Jun 23, 2020 3:00 AM PT

Cheveyo, left, and Star, right, were shot and killed by RCMP after officers responded to a call about dead goats. The dogs' owners are now suing the force.(Theresa Kozak)

When Chetwynd RCMP responded to a complaint on a rural property in May 2018, they found three dead goats and two obvious suspects — the next door neighbour's dogs.

But according to a B.C. Supreme Court claim filed last month, instead of investigating the matter any further, one of the responding officers acted as judge, jury and executioner — shooting the dogs and then leaving their bodies at the dump where their horrified owners found them several days later.

The owners — Michael James Kozak and Theresa Ann Kozak — are now suing the officers, the detachment and both the attorney general of Canada and B.C.'s public safety minister for damages.

They're also hoping the case might lead the RCMP to establish guidelines for police officers on how to deal with people's dogs when they enter private property.

"These dogs were [Theresa Kozak's] everything. She has other animals too, but they meant a lot to her. She spent a lot of time with them, and to know how their lives ended is just brutal," said Rebeka Breder, the Kozaks' lawyer.

"It is completely unacceptable that the police can simply shoot someone's dog without a proper investigation, or at the very least, trying to use non-lethal alternatives."

Wrong place, wrong time

The Kozaks bought Star, a female rottweiler, as a puppy in 2009 and they adopted Cheveyo, a male husky, from a neighbour in 2012.

According to the notice of civil claim, the couple walked the dogs around the neighbourhood regularly and both were accustomed to the other animals on the Kozaks' property, including goats, turkeys, geese, chickens and horses.

In early May 2018, the Kozaks left Chetwynd to go on a "once-in-a-lifetime vacation" to Peru, leaving Star and Cheveyo at home with their son.

Cheveyo was adopted from a neighbour in 2012. The dog is one of two animals shot by the RCMP after it responded to a call about dead goats in 2018. Cheveyo's owners are now suing the force.(Theresa Kozak)

The lawsuit says a neighbour found three of her goats dead inside a pen on her property on May 20, 2018. Star and Cheveyo were inside the pen, which consisted of a fence that was a little more than a metre high.

"The neighbour did not witness the dogs allegedly attack or kill her goats," the notice of claim reads.

Two officers attended the property and found the dogs "lying down calmly and enclosed in the pen, unable to escape." The lawsuit says there was no evidence to implicate the dogs in the death of the goats.

According to the claim, Const. Viktor Rau called his supervisor, who directed him to shoot and kill the dogs.

Meanwhile, the other officer allegedly spoke with a B.C. conservation officer who advised them to call animal control and said killing the dogs would violate the province's Livestock Act.

Despite the conflicting advice, the Kozaks claim Rau shot Star and Cheveyo and then he and the other officer took their bodies to the dump.

The Kozaks cut their vacation short when they found out and went to the dump to retrieve the bodies, once they got back to Chetwynd.

"The bodies appeared to have been partially eaten by wildlife," the lawsuit says. "Star's collar was about twenty feet away from her body."

Cheveyo's collar was never found.

Broader questions of aggression

Breder says the Kozaks believe it's possible another animal killed the goats and that Star and Cheveyo were just there to find out what had happened.

Regardless, she says the dogs deserved the benefit of the doubt. Or at the very least, some form of due process. She says the Kozaks filed a complaint with the RCMP, which faulted the officers' actions.

The lawsuit comes at a time when RCMP and police across North America are under scrutiny for resorting to force in times of conflict. Other dog owners have complained about officers summarily shooting their animals. In one high-profile case dating back to 2000, Abbotsford police were criticized for shooting a pit bull during a raid on a suspected drug dealer's home during what turned out to be a children's birthday party.

Breder says the RCMP don't have any guidelines, policies or training for dealing with dogs on private property during the course of their duties.

She says the claim was filed now in order to comply with the court's statute of limitations. But she believes the treatment of dogs fits into a larger picture.

"Just because police may have some ongoing issues with dealing with aggression or brutality toward people doesn't mean that they need to also ignore how they treat animals," she said.

"It speaks to a broader issue about fundamental changes that need to be happening within the RCMP dealing with aggression-related type of issues whether it's with people or toward animals."

CMP would not comment on the claim while it is before the courts.

The force has yet to file a statement of defence.

Originally published by CBC

June 23 2020



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