Police Killing A Dog Can Be Considered a Violation of the Fourth Amendment
Kent and Tonya Mayfield brought this action against Deputy Jim Bethards under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming he violated their Fourth Amendment rights by killing their pet dog. The Mayfields claim that Deputy Bethards entered the Mayfields’ property without a warrant with the intention of killing their two dogs. Both dogs were fired upon, and one was killed. The complaint states that Deputies Clark and Bethards exited their vehicle and entered the Mayfields’ unfenced front yard to approach the dogs that were lying in the front yard. A witness alleged that even though the dogs were not acting aggressively, both officers began firing on the dogs once they were on the Mayfields’ property. Deputy Clark fired on Suka the brown dog but missed, and she ran to the back of the house. Deputy Bethards shot Majka the husky three times and killed her on the front porch. The deputies searched for Suka behind the house, but they couldn’t find her. When they returned to the front yard, they moved Majka’s dead body in an apparent attempt to make it appear as though she was not shot on the Mayfields’ property, and they hid her body in a row of trees.
The deputies raised a qualified-immunity defense and moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The district court dismissed the Mayfields’ Fourth Amendment claim against Deputy Clark on qualified immunity, but it denied qualified immunity to Deputy Bethards because the complaint provided a plausible claim that Deputy Bethards violated the
Mayfields’ Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully seizing Majka when he shot and killed her.
The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. However, Deputy Bethards argues that the complaint does not state a plausible Fourth Amendment claim because dogs are not “effects” subject to Fourth Amendment protection. He also claims that killing Majka was reasonable under the circumstances as a matter of law. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with his argument. The Supreme Court has long equated the term “effects” with personal property, and Kansas recognizes that dogs are their owners’ personal property. The Court explains that killing a dog meaningfully and permanently interferes with the owner’s possessory interest and this constitutes a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights absent a warrant. Accordingly, the district court’s order denying Deputy Bethards motion to dismiss was affirmed.