Major Settlement in Case of Dog Shooting by Colorado Officer

Posted by Lora Dunn, ALDF Staff Attorney on January 26, 2016

On January 25, the owner of a therapy dog named Chloe who was shot and killed by a Colorado police officer in 2012 reached a landmark settlement over Chloe’s unlawful killing. Commerce City agreed to pay $262,500 to Gary Branson and his family, according to media reports. Officers were allegedly responding to a call about a dog running loose in the neighborhood on November 24, 2012 when they tried unsuccessfully to use a catchpole and a Taser to capture Chloe while her owner was out of town. Officer Robert Price shot Chloe five times at close range, and neighbors videotaped the incident. The officer was charged but acquitted of criminal aggravated animal cruelty in 2013, and the Branson family filed a federal civil suit against Commerce City alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation for unlawful deprivation of their property for Chloe’s death.


This settlement is another victory for pet owners in a legal system that categorizes animals as property, a classification that seems like an odd fit when we’re talking about sentient beings. Yet the law does recognize that animals are inherently different from other property—you could smash a table to pieces or light your car on fire without legal ramifications, but doing the same to a dog triggers serious cruelty violations (all 50 states now have felony cruelty laws on the books). Beyond the criminal realm, in cases where animals are wrongfully killed, more courts are recognizing animals’ intrinsic value by awarding damages that exceed the sheer market value of the animal.

The shooting of dogs by police officers is a systemic issue nationwide, with the Department of Justice estimating that about 10,000 dogs are shot by cops every year in the United States. The documentary Of Dogs and Men, which was produced in association with ALDF and premiered at the Austin Film Festival in November 2015, examines this important issue by tracing the stories of families and their victim dogs and interviewing law enforcement. The film includes the story of Chloe from the Commerce City case, and an interview with owner Gary Branson.

While the Branson case may be among one of the larger settlements of its kind in a § 1983 case, it is by no means the largest: In 2012, a Maryland jury awarded $620,000 in a case where two sheriff’s deputies shot a chocolate Labrador named Brandi when they entered the dog owner’s home while attempting to serve a body attachment (similar to a warrant). The jury’s award was later reduced by the appellate court to just over $200,000. Brooks v. Jenkins, 220 Md. App. 444 (2014). In an earlier case, the worst possible plaintiffs (the Hells Angels) extracted more than $900,000 in damages after San Jose officers shot three dogs during the execution of search warrants at multiple locations.

The good news is that awareness is growing that a lack of police training on animal encounters is the root of the problem, and police departments are taking action to change the statistics. More and more departments are adding animal-specific training to their rosters thanks to the work of organizations like the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Chiefs of Police. Further, the Colorado and Texas legislatures have enacted mandated officer training as well.

What should you do if you witness a dog being injured or killed by law enforcement? Visit our resources on “Dogs Shot by Cops: Companion Animals and Law Enforcement” and find out more.

15 thoughts on “Major Settlement in Case of Dog Shooting by Colorado Officer

  1. Gordon McShean says:

    One wonders whether the killing of dogs by government authorities other than Police might similarly be challenged. Here in New Zealand animal control authorities are often responsible for the arbitrary killing of dogs which have been found wandering when officers assert they are pit bull or partial pit bull (while dogs of different breeds are are given shelter and held for return to owners). No evidence of dangerous behaviour is required -breed discrimination is the justification for putting these dogs down. The potential feelings of the owners is not considered. Your comment would be appreciated.

    1. Rahzel says:

      I can’t specify as to other government authorities but the experience I have had with police and dogs in my area is the same. They don’t know how to handle dogs, they don’t even want to try to handle them. I had an experience one night/early morning, a fairly large dog running in the streets, older, sight impaired dog. I was trying to catch it but it was dark and poorly lit and with the dogs sight impaired, it was afraid and kept running back and forth into the street. I eventually called the police for help to catch him because people drive fast down that street and most likely would have hit him. There were two police vehicles and me driving to corral the dog but he would get scared and run, I think we finally tired him out after about 2 hours and with their help we surrounded him, I am a trainer by profession so for me, I am use to dogs, I had a leash in my car, I got it and was trying to put the leash around the dogs neck but he again was fearful and trying to bite, I put my hand on the dogs shoulders to push him to the ground so I could get the leash on him, yes he was trying to bite my hand that was on his shoulders but it was dark and he couldn’t see well. The officer was alarmed, he yelled ” he is trying to bite you “, I said I know, it was like a little kid telling me this, I was surprised by his reaction. Now, through all this these big policeman with big boots and gear and vets just stood there, they didn’t have a clue how to handle this old half blind golden mix that was frightened, he wasn’t dangerous, just scared. If it wasn’t for me, they may have shot him. Now, I was in gym clothes and tennis shoes and all of 122 pounds and 5 ft. 3 inches and here I was not afraid of this old dog that was just lost and frightened that we had chased around for two hours in the dark but they were, I finally was able to get the leash around his neck and we got him in the police car and took him to the local emergency vet, where they got in touch with owner and could get him home, I followed them to get my leash back and waited to be sure he was alright. Then when my mother passed last year, I had to call 911 emergency and the police showed up, I told them about what happen with the dog and the other officers and they told me they wanted nothing to do with dogs or any situation like that, they were not even interested in learning, their attitude was ” No way ” I think this is the problem, they don’t want to know or even learn, they want to just shoot and get rid of the dog then deal with it so it can survive. There maybe some that care about animals enough to want to learn how to handle situations with them but so far I have not personally run into them.

      1. Jenai herod says:

        It isn’t just police killing dogs for being unwilling and improperly trained to handle a ffearful companion animal who is naturally terrified of a uniform with zero intentions of anything but to corner it with a hostile insensitive approach stick a catch pole or gun in its face without any regard for the fact its afraid for its life. I know animal control officers are just as trigger happy at fearful dogs even when someone attempts to vpuvh for the dog who actually belonged to an 8 yr old child whos parents were divorcing and her dog got away during a move we tried desperately to get the dog releases but didn’t have 400 to pay the random even begged a rescue to help me foster the girls 8 yr old companolion she had grown up with and was desperately in need of during such a difficult time in her life and after begging acc and a rescue instead of due process they deed the dog aggressive (an outright lie I knew the dog and there’s no way ) they killed the dog . no one should in a uniform shpuld be able to legally murder a family pet with a gun or injection unless it is avbsolutepy necessary to stop an attack which clearly the only once being attacked in these cases are the dogs by law enforcement and ACC now I gotta tell a friends 8 yr old child her dog is dead or protect her by lying about what happened to her DPG some how. They had no right or reason to kill her dog that way. She was bring claimed but they didn’t care even though we begged for another day.

  2. Lauren says:

    Good. Kudos to the owners that stuck to their guns. I didn’t mean that as a pun, sorry.

  3. julie landmichael says:

    those crimes have to stop now police have to learn how to manage they may have gun just to pout the dog asleep for a bet BUT NEVER KILLED NEVER!

  4. Isabell Strömbäck says:

    This is awful :(

  5. Willy says:

    I’m glad that the courts ruled in the favor of the family that owned Chloe, but I still think this officer should of been found guilty for his actions.

  6. Iris Owens says:

    The officer took a precious life. He should have been charged.

  7. Jody artale says:

    This is a Victory but the poor people can’t get there precious Chole back the police officer should go to tail he is not above the law asshole!!!

  8. Ernie Jay says:

    Although I usually agree with every position ALDF takes, I do not blame the police with regard to Chloe, the therapy dog. A dog running loose may or may not be a threat to humans and other pets and wildlife. Police can’t take any chances, and like USPS men and women, once there’s been a problem, they can’t second guess how each dog is going to react. With the older, blind golden mix, that dog was so lucky to have Rahzel around. Police are not just reacting with their own personal experiences (many HAVE been challenged by suspects’ dogs), but also have an obligation to protect the community. There are plenty of human dog attacks on vulnerable people that they can’t just hope the dog will come to them, sit down and behave. Can you imagine the outrage (and lawsuits) against the police for NOT taking aggressive action?
    We are huge dog/animal lovers, but unless there is a gross, illegal reaction by the police (and sorry, none of the narratives prove to us that police had other options), we don’t see those split-second police decisions, with dogs or people, as being unreasonable. No one wins, but the police cannot be blamed for the instances described unless there was a bad apple. It’s regrettable, of course–lose, lose situations. BTW: Most police officers have pets, treat them great, and grieve at having to shoot and injure a pet.

  9. cf says:

    as long as they don’t soot MY dog i won’t have to use my training

  10. My service dog was shot and killed. My other service dog in training took a bebee in his nose and required surgery to close the hole. I too was shot. The guy behind yes a neighbor got the police to give me a barking dog ticket. Mine only alert when he is outside with his guns and video camera trespassing on my property. I got two years probation. Once again the guy was out trying to antagonize my service dogs. Why is he not in jail. My vet bills are high from stress and my medical bills. Not a day goes without my service dog I cry for him. The independence he gave me. While I have another he is close to retirement. My one dog shot I don’t know his fate. He may have closed head injury. This guy needs put in jail. I take care of my elderly parents one with dementia the other with heart failure. I too have intravenous medications every other day for the rest of my life. Please advise.

  11. CoffeeInTheMorning says:

    Ethically, I think it was a mistake to settle, especially since safety was an issue. It was obviously a practical decision. In retrospect, a stun gun, a pain compliance device, made the situation worse for the restrainer. A tazer, a nervous system disruptor, would have been a better choice in subduing the animal. However, I think Police should not be required to do the job of Animal Control, nor expect to be trained in that regards, they are not a catch-all. Personally, I think anytime safety is an issue, a person should have the right to use whatever means of force is available to defend himself or others from a dog attack. In this case, the officer had a gun. No person should be forced to endure an attack or put themselves at risk simply to appease animal rights activists or ill interpretations of the 4th ammendment.–it’s simply ridiculous. Note: the restrainer in this video was barely able to control the very powerful dog and was on the verge of lossing it. If it got loose, it could have easily attacked someone.

  12. nicole says:

    Extra upsetting this happened in a state that supposedly has a strong law and mandated officer training (unless it was enacted after the shooting).

  13. Yutong Hou says:

    These kind of crime should be banned, the police have to be managed not shooting the animals. This belongs to the crime.

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