Roommates who sued a Maryland county Monday claim police officers illegally entered their apartment without a warrant, detained them at gunpoint without justification and unnecessarily shot their pet dog, which was left paralyzed and ultimately euthanized.
The dog, a boxer mix named Hennessey, did not attack the three officers who entered the apartment before two of them shot the animal with their firearms and the third fired a stun gun at it, according to the federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks at least $16 million in damages over the June, 2, 2021, encounter, which started with Prince George's County police officers responding to a report of a dog bite at an apartment complex where the four plaintiffs lived. What happened next was captured on police body camera video and video from a plaintiff's cellphone.
Two officers went to the plaintiffs' apartment to look for the dogs reportedly involved in the biting incident. A maintenance worker gave police a master key to enter the apartment after nobody answered their knocks. The third officer arrived as the other officers entered the apartment with their guns drawn.
Two of the plaintiffs were in their bedroom when the officers entered. One of them yelled through the door that police had no right to be there, but one of the officers said they did not need a warrant because they had "probable cause," according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims the officers panicked and fired their weapons at the dog after it followed one of the plaintiffs out of the bedroom and approached its primary owner, Erica Umana.
After the shooting, the officers handcuffed the roommates and left them in police vehicles for roughly one hour before releasing them from custody.
The plaintiffs — Umana, Erika Erazo Sanchez, Dayri Amaya Benitez and Brandon Cuevas — are suing the county and the three officers.
Umana told the Washington Post in 2021 that she had pleaded for somebody to help her wounded dog.
"I was just begging them, begging them," Umana said. "They just had no remorse."
The county offered to compensate Umana for her veterinary bills if she agreed to refrain from publicly speaking about the shooting, but she rejected the offer, according to her lawsuit.
Police and county officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit's allegations.
"This lawsuit is yet another tragically foreseeable outcome of a failed and biased system of policing in Prince George's County, to which County leadership has continually turned a blind eye," the suit says.
The suit says the three officers were placed on paid administrative leave while the department investigated the incident. A department investigator accused two of the officers of "conduct unbecoming an officer" for entering the apartment without a warrant, but the third officer was cleared of wrongdoing, the suit says.
The suit accuses the officers of using excessive force, falsely arresting the plaintiffs and violating their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
William "Billy" Murphy Jr., a lawyer for the roommates, represented the family of Freddie Gray, a Black man whose death in police custody in 2015 led to riots and protests in the city of Baltimore. Murphy said the Prince George's County police officers sued Monday engaged in "outrageously flagrant misconduct."
"For this to be happening in 2021 blows the mind," Murphy said. "It is in the DNA of the founding of America that you can't do this. You can't get a key to somebody's house and just walk in there without getting a search warrant."
The suit claims there has been a decades-long pattern of police misconduct in Prince George's County, which abuts Washington, D.C. It cites a string of incidents in which county officers have been accused of using excessive force, including the January 2020 killing of an unarmed Black man, William Green.
Green was handcuffed in a police car when he was shot and killed by Michael Owen Jr., who wa a 10-year veteran of the police department. Owen was arrested on a murder charge and has a trial starting start this week. The county agreed to a $20 million settlement with Green's family, which also was represented by Murphy's law firm.
Malcolm Ruff, an attorney who also represents the plaintiffs in Monday's lawsuit, said Prince George's County police officers "have no fear of reprimand, and they think that they are going to get away with treating people the way that they did."
"And that's because of the history of how Prince George's County has handled misconduct for decades," Ruff added.
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