By David Pendered

Atlanta plans to settle the case with a family whose dog was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer on Nov. 10, 2013. The $25,000 settlement is a fraction of the $500,000 initially sought, but does come with the comfort of a recently approved training program for officers when they encounter animals.

The settlement was approved Wednesday without comment by the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee. The settlement was one of four the committee took up as a single package.

The settlement is slated for approval by the Atlanta City Council at its Jan. 16 meeting. Legislation that is unanimously approved by a committee appears on a portion of the council’s agenda that typically is endorsed by a single vote.

Atlanta has traveled a long distance to reach this position. The city’s initial response, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, contained this defense:

  • “At all times relevant to this case, the actions of the City Defendants were taken in good faith and said actions were reasonable, proper and necessary under the circumstances.”

The dog owners disagreed with that position.

Kelley Rodriguez and Matthew Rodriguez filed court papers contending that they were saying goodbye to family members who were returning to their home in Fayetteville, N.C. after visiting the Rodriguez’ home in Atlanta. This is the situation they described in their lawsuit:

The trouble started at 10 a.m., when an 11-year-old niece of the Rodriguez’ dialed 911 in error from her cell phone. Five minutes later an emergency responder returned the call and the niece said everything was fine.

The departing relatives departed for home, and returned twice over the course of 45 minutes to retrieve items they had forgotten. At about 11 a.m., there was a knock at the door and Kelley Rodriguez answered, thinking it was the relatives back for more items.

Instead, Kelly Rodriguez saw two Atlanta police officers walking away from the door. They were almost at the front gate, where they had left the gate door wide open.

The Rodriguez’ two pet dogs ran toward the officers. Officer Brian Carswell turned and fired a shot at an approaching Labrador Retriever named Jane, hitting the dog in the head in a shot that proved to be fatal.

Meantime, police Officer Trainee Derek Daniel had produced his service revolver and was aiming at the Rodriguez’ second animal, a 4-month-old dog named Lucy. Kelley Rodriguez’ protests evidently convinced Daniel not to shoot.

The officers prevented the owners of the shot dog and a neighbor from administering aid. A supervisor arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting an authorized the dog to be taken for treatment. Jane died around 1 p.m.

As the case ground toward settlement, the Atlanta Police Department on Oct. 30, 2017 announced that it was creating a position to help police handle animal situations.

The police department’s animal cruelty liaison officer is charged with pursuing and investigating animal cruelty crimes. Another responsibility is to work with police officers to reduce the incidents of officer-involved dog shooting, according to a statement.

The statement said the position was being created, partly, in response to the death of a 6-year-old boy in January 2017 who was attacked by a dog. A 5-year-old girl was seriously injured in the incident.

The statement did not mention Jane, the Rodriguez’ dog.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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