Video shows dog attacking patrol horses at Gasparilla before being shot

An expert in mounted law enforcement training adds that an agitated horse could pose great danger to a crowded public space.
Published Jan. 27, 2020

TAMPA — Video released Monday by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shows a dog leaping at patrol horses along the Gasparilla Parade route Saturday evening, just before a mounted deputy shot the dog.

The video, which deputies said was taken from a nearby surveillance camera, does not show the shooting itself. But it appears to support the Sheriff’s Office’s statements about how the episode unfolded.

The incident took place at about 6:30 p.m. outside the 345 Bayshore Condominiums. The Parade of Pirates had already passed by, and the video shows the dispersal of the large crowd along the Bayshore Boulevard route.

Related: Dog shot and killed by deputy at Gasparilla after attacking patrol horse

The video shows a cluster of at least eight horses, mounted by officers from both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department, moving along the route. Then the dog darts in from the left side of the frame and leaps at a horse, apparently trying to bite it. The dog weaves through the horses’ legs for a moment, continuing to nip at their legs and undersides.

Deputies said the dog bit one horse, 16-year-old Romeo, on the lower leg, which was protected by a covering. No horse was seriously injured.

After about 15 seconds, the dog runs out of frame. Sometime after that, according to the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Crystal McClelland, one of the mounted officers, shot the dog once in the back. Deputies said that a nearby deputy had tried to use his Taser on the dog, but he couldn’t get an angle that didn’t risk Tasing one of the horses.

The dog died at the scene, deputies said. After the dog’s owner, a homeless man, threatened to hurt himself and deputies, he was taken into custody under the Baker Act, Florida’s involuntary mental-health examination law.

The incident generated controversy on social media, with some commenters defending McClelland’s actions and some, including eyewitnesses, arguing that she crossed a line by shooting the dog.

But horses, regardless of their training, are animals whose fight-or-flight instinct could put others in danger if a loose animal is attacking them, said Chris Laster, president and chief instructor of the Mounted Police Training Academy. An agitated horse could buck an officer, which could seriously injure or kill that person and leave the horse running free.

“Now the whole general public is at great risk, because you’ve got a 1,200-pound animal out of control,” said Laster, who was sergeant of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s mounted unit for 14 years. “They are also herd animals. When one reacts, they all have the ability to react.”

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Especially in a crowded area, that leaves officers to make split-second decisions: Shoot the dog, or risk the horse breaking away and possibly injuring dozens?

There’s no clear line for when to use or not use force in such a scenario, said Laster, who hadn’t seen video of the incident. And that muddiness is compounded by the fact that training for horses can’t realistically prepare them for attacks by other animals.

“There is no way you can train for that,” he said. “You or I or a horse is not going to stand there and let a dog bite them.”