Cop Kills Dog As Cuffed Family Watches

The Early Show: A disturbing incident was caught on police videotape as one Tenn. cop shot and killed a family's dog for no apparent justification, Tracy Smith explains.
CBS/The Early Show
Nearly 40 percent of all families own a dog, but when pets come in contact with police, the results are unpredictable and sometimes tragic.

CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith explains that a shooting of a family dog during a traffic stop, an event that was videotaped, is causing a controversy in Tennessee.

The uproar extends to Saluda, N.C. where the Smoak family lived with their dog, Patton.

"I said, 'Jamie, I can't imagine it being any worse than if it actually was my child that was shot,'" says Pamela Smoak. "We just loved him very much, he had a spirit unlike any dog we've ever had."

The shooting happened New Year's Day when the Smoaks were returning from vacation in Tennessee. They stopped to get gas and Jamie Smoak accidentally left his wallet on the top of the car. When they got back on the road, another motorist reported seeing money flying out of a green station wagon. So the police, thinking that they had robbery suspects on their hands, pulled them over.

"He comes behind me and handcuffs me," says Jamie. "They commenced to do the same thing to my wife and child. And in the process, the passenger door to the car is left open. And while we're cuffed on our knees, we can be heard at least three different occasions telling them that our pets are in the car. To please shut the door."

But the officers didn't close the door, and it wasn't long before Patton, a boxer-pitbull mix, jumped out. Police officer Eric Hall said he had little time to react.

"I noticed that the dog trained in right on me, I thought the dog is coming right at me," says Hall. "And I yelled at the dog as I was backing up. And I yelled at it to get back."

Soon, Officer Hall fired his 12-gauge shotgun at Patton.

"I stands straight up in the air and they leg sweep me and they tackle me down onto the pavement," says Jamie. "I was traumatized."

Pamela Smoak says Patton wasn't in a threatening position before he was shot.

"He was playful looking," says Pamela. "Not only was his tail wagging, but his entire body is swinging back and forth."

Dr. Kevin Matthews had been Patton's vet since he was a puppy. He says he has never seen Patton act aggressively.

"He'd been in with other people in the lobby - other dogs, children, and he never showed any aggressive tendencies," says Dr. Matthews.

And the Patton incident is not an isolated one. Some animal rights groups believe that police officers should be trained to better deal with pets.

"We have seen an increase in animal-related police shootings," says Animal Legal Defense Fund Bradley Woodall. "We've seen these types of incidents happen throughout all 50 states."

Woodall tracks cruelty cases for the Animal Legal Defense Fund and he says many animals have lost their lives because police officers used lethal force when less forceful methods might have worked.

The Smoaks say that they've received nearly 500 letters of condolence. One person even sent them a puppy with markings similar to Patton's. But they say Patton can't be replaced.

"What was done to us was not fair, and was outrageous," says Jamie Smoak. "The dog has the ability to have unconditional love. And that's the relationship I had with him and if you're not a pet owner you don't understand. It's unconditional love and I can't state how strong it is to be loved like that. But to have it taken from you the way they've done, this is terrible."

The Smoaks say they plan to sue. In Tennessee, where the incident took place, legislators are considering laws that would require that police officers to be trained to better deal with pets.