What was a normal day in the park for a Radford student turned violent last week, when an officer from the Radford Police Department shot his dog, Copper, while it was off its leash in a city park.
The incident — which occurred on Friday, Feb. 2 — has quickly turned into a case of conflicting testimonies, as student Joseph DeMasi and the officer have very different stories of how the pointer terrier ended up with bullet wounds to its right front leg and back paw.
Both sides agree on the initial facts of the situation: DeMasi and his friend Corey Schmitt took their dogs to the city park and let them off of their leashes in a secluded area.
However, the stories split once the officer arrived on the scene.
DeMasi said the altercation was the result of an officer who “just pulled out his gun and didn’t think twice.”
“We hear a cop yell, ‘Get your dogs on a leash,’ and the dogs turned and looked and saw him,” DeMasi said. “They started running toward him like they would anyone else, to greet him — there was no barking or growling.”
DeMasi said the dogs were 10 to 15 yards from the officer when he shot at the dogs. He said at first he didn’t even realize it was his dog that had been hit.
“I turn around and see my dog whimpering down the riverbank and collapses in the river,” he said. “Then I picked him up and ignored the officer completely.”
The officer’s story varies significantly.
“The reason the officer was called down there was a citizen’s complaint of ‘two dogs that were off leash and acting mean.’ Those were the words of the complainant,” said Lieutenant Scott Schwarzer of the RPD.
“As (the officer) got out of his vehicle, these two dogs began to run in the officer’s direction,” he said. “One of them stopped and returned to the other involved owner, the other did not. The officer yelled to the owner to call off the dog, and the dog was not responding. And the dog was aggressive and launched toward the officer and left the officer no choice but to pull his firearm to stop the dog.”
The officer fired his weapon once.
Upon realizing his dog was critically wounded, DeMasi immediately took it to the Riverside Animal Clinic to get emergency care with the officer following him.
Clinic employees were able to confirm Copper had been admitted for a gunshot wound to his right side, but they wouldn’t comment on other details. Once the dog was taken for treatment, DeMasi and Schmitt were given citations for illegally having their dogs off their leashes in the park.
“It’s not a dog park. It is a city park,” Schwarzer said. “It requires dogs to be on leashes at all times.”
According to DeMasi, the officer made further comments at the veterinary clinic that offended him.
“He told me I’m lucky his aim wasn’t better and I’m lucky my dog isn’t dead,” DeMasi said. “He repeated it several more times later.”
DeMasi also claims the officer forced him onto his knees with his hands behind his back after a quip about the officer’s grammar.
Schwarzer declined to address those allegations, stating they were inappropriate to discuss.
Copper is recovering from the wound. DeMasi said he is considering pressing charges over the incident, which also left him with a $500 veterinary bill.
The officer’s actions were internally investigated, but Schwarzer said that is standard procedure and the officer “responded appropriately and accordingly to the situation.”