An officer's shooting of a dog in Williams Park two months ago was justified, police ruled Thursday.
A St. Petersburg police shooting review board determined Officer Steven L. Laurenzi, 29, used appropriate force when he fired three rounds into the German shepherd on Jan. 9. But the investigation found witnesses who said Kenneth McNeil, 21, who was walking the dog for a friend, posed no threat, and that officers told McNeil to "chain up your (expletive) mutt, chain up your stupid dog."
About 8:30 p.m. Laurenzi and his partner commanded McNeil to stop and talk with them, as McNeil was not allowed in the park and had previously been kicked out, authorities said.
McNeil refused and walked away toward the intersection of Second Avenue and Fourth Street N. Laurenzi's partner, Officer Eduardo Rivera, chased after and jumped on McNeil, and that's when the dog started barking.
One witness, Willie Arline, said the officer tried to back away as the dog growled and jumped. Arline said he would have "done the same thing if he was in the officer's position," according to investigators. But two other witnesses said they had met and petted the dog before and it had not seemed threatening. They said officers cursed and screamed at McNeil and told him to chain his dog up to a street sign. After the officer tackled McNeil, they said the dog barked and stood on its hind legs. One witness said the dog "appeared to be on a leash when the officer fired."
This is not the first time St. Petersburg police have come under scrutiny for dog shootings. In 2011, officers killed at least seven dogs, which prompted then-Chief Chuck Harmon to make policy changes.
Weston Phippen can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org