Video: Mesa police shoot pit bull; bullet strikes another officer

It was supposed to be a routine call: A resident called Mesa police to report a dog barking in a neighbor’s apartment.

But when police showed up, the episode escalated. One officer ended up shooting the man’s pit bull, but the bullet passed through the dog’s neck, striking another officer in the groin.

Officer Jose Aguirre, and Mio, the pit bull, both survived.

The April 1 incident was recorded by officers’ on-body cameras. In response to a public-records request from The Arizona Republic, the Mesa Police Department on Friday released the incident report and a total of six videos that depict different angles of the incident.

The videos were released at a time when the department is already under scrutiny for several other use-of-force incidents in the past year.

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Mio’s owner, Isaac Smith, had been booked into a Maricopa County jail on suspicion of assault by a vicious animal, aggravated assault on law enforcement, resisting arrest, failure to provide a name when detained and unlawful animal noises, according to the police report. 

Detective Nik Rasheta, a Mesa police spokesman, said a city prosecutor later dropped the charges against Smith. He also said that after “a preliminary review of the incident, a professional standards investigation was initiated.”

“It’s important to remember that body camera video of any incident provides one perspective and does not depict the entire situation,” Rasheta said in an email. “The facts of this case are complex and will be sorted out through the professional standards investigation. All the involved officers are entitled to due process under Arizona State law.” 

He said he couldn’t comment further because of the ongoing internal investigation.

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Amanda Steele, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which reviews police shootings, said in an email that the office “would not have been called to that type of incident.” She added, “Our officer-involved shooting protocol does not include canines.”

Smith, 29, said in a phone interview with The Republic, “That situation could have been handled so much differently on my part and the cops’ part.”

But, he said, when police approached him that night, he didn’t know that someone had called the police to complain about a dog barking because he had been out at a concert.

Six days after that night, he started an online GoFundMe campaign to raise $3,000 for Mio’s medical costs and to hire a lawyer.  

“Mio was shot by cops over a noise complaint from a puppy I was watching,” the page states.

As of Friday, the online campaign had raised nearly $700.

On Friday, Smith said 4-year-old Mio is doing better. He said the dog didn’t need surgery, and Mio has slowly begun to walk again.

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Noise complaint

The 911 call came just before midnight on April 1, from a nearby neighbor who later told police that a dog in Smith’s apartment had been barking for more than an hour, the police report says.

Two officers went to Smith’s apartment to question him, the report says. According to the video and the police report, Smith told them that he had a pit bull but that the barking dog was a puppy he recently found and that he was trying to find its owner. He also told the officers that he left his name and phone number on a piece of paper at a nearby dog park alerting people of the found puppy.

In the video, an officer asks Smith for his last name, but Smith tells him that they didn’t need to know that. When the officer insists Smith tell them his last name, Smith begins to walk back into his apartment. One of the officers tries to pull Smith back out, but Smith is able to walk inside and close the door, the video shows.

The officers begin to yell that he open the door, but Smith refuses, the video shows. At one point, Smith is heard saying that he has a dog.

The police report says that officers heard Smith say that he was going to let his dog attack the officers.

In the video, an officer responds, “I’m going to shoot your dog if you let it go.” 

As officers continue to yell that Smith open his door, he tells them to calm down and he would open the door, the video shows. The officers also threaten to break down the door if Smith refused to open it, the videos show. 

“This is getting blown way out of proportion,” an officer yells, according to the videos. “You’re one step away from going to jail. And I’m breaking down the door.”

Shortly after, Smith opens the door and officers enter, the video shows. 

In an interview with a detective after the incident, Officer Victor Pia said he punched Smith in the back and near the man’s ribs as other officers punched him in other parts of the body, according to the police report.

The police report also says that as officers punched Smith, Mio bit Officer Christopher Escobedo on one of his legs. 

Pia also said that he saw Officer Aguirre use a Taser at least once, but that he heard the Taser deploy again, the report says.

Pia said he pulled the dog by the collar and attempted to throw Mio into another room, the report says.

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Officer Landon Jones at one point fell to the the ground, the report says.

“As Officer Jones was on the ground, on his back, the dog continued to advance towards him,” the report says. “Fearing for his safety, Officer Jones fired a bullet from his assigned Mesa PD duty gun at the dog,” 

One of the videos shows Officer Aguirre scream, leaving the apartment and going down the stairs to a parking lot, where he tells other officers that he got hit by the bullet in the groin. 

Meanwhile, the other officers are still in a scuffle with Smith in his apartment. 

“Because of a noise complaint? You killed my dog,” Smith says as officers are still on top of him. “I was having a great night. I just saw George Clinton,” referring to the singer who performed at a Tempe music venue that evening.

The dog, however, survived the injury.

Use-of-force investigations

In the past year, the Mesa Police Department has drawn scrutiny over whether officers used excessive force in several incidents.

The FBI is reviewing several use-of-force cases from Mesa police, according to an Aug. 28 letter sent by a federal agent to the Mesa Police Department.

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One is the May arrest of 35-year-old Robert Johnson. Charges against him have since been dismissed. Another involved 15-year-old Gabriel Ramirez, who was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault and is being prosecuted as an adult. The third occurred Sept. 22, 2017, when three Mesa police officers shot and killed 28-year-old U.S. Army veteran Scott Farnsworth. 

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In all three cases, officers were cleared from facing any criminal charges by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

The FBI already was investigating the 2016 death of Daniel Shaver, who was on his knees and begging for his life in a Mesa hotel when he was fatally shot by then-Mesa Officer Philip Brailsford. In that case, the County Attorney’s Office did charge the officer, but a jury found Brailsford not guilty of murder in December 2017. 

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In June, Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista called for multiple investigations into the Johnson and Ramirez cases. Scottsdale police investigated both incidents, and concluded no criminal charges were warranted. Batista also tapped former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to be part of the Mesa Police Department’s internal investigations of those cases, which are pending. 

Batista also asked the Police Executive Research Forum, a national group that studies police practices, to review the Mesa Police Department’s use-of-force cases for the past three years.

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