But black cop was disciplined for shooting a pit bull
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana––A Baton Rouge Police Department K9 officer, on patrol with his dog Mack on the night of January 6, 2021, “pulled over a suspected stolen white Dodge Ram pick-up truck,” WBRZ-TV reported.
“As the two waited for assisting officers to arrive, police say the four occupants in the suspected vehicle attempted to flee on foot,” WBRZ continued.
“A chase ensued, during which Mack reportedly bit one of the suspects. The suspect retaliated by firing a weapon, shooting and injuring the dog.”
Mack, a one-year veteran of police work, survived with non-life threatening injuries.
Silas Clouatre, 18, and Jerell Hebert, 31, were arrested. The two other suspects remained at large.
Clouatre was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, illegally carrying a weapon, illegal use of a weapon, injuring a police animal, and resisting an officer.
Hebert was arrested for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The incident appears to have exemplified routine Baton Rouge Police Department use of police dogs, as affirmed six weeks later through a joint investigation undertaken by the nonprofit Marshall Project and the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Concern about police dogs, but not about pit bulls
Attention to the January 6, 2021 Baton Rouge incident also exemplified increasing public concern about alleged misuse of police dogs, leading to avoidable injuries to both dogs and human suspects.
That rising concern contrasts with the paradox that concern about injuries and even fatalities inflicted by pet dogs, especially pit bulls, not only remains low, but remains as actively suppressed by humane organizations in Louisiana as anywhere else.
Louisiana has had 14 dog attack fatalities since 1999, nearly twice as many per 100,000 residents as the U.S. norm, with 64%––about the same as the U.S. norm––inflicted by pit bulls. Only one fatality involved a police dog.
The Louisiana dog attack injury rate also appears to be nearly twice the national norm.
Marshall Project findings
The Marshall Project, founded in 2014 in honor of Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, describes itself as “a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system,” produced by “seasoned investigative journalists, veteran crime reporters, innovative digital producers, and experienced news editors.”
Opened Bryn Stole and Grace Toohey of February 12, 2021, summarizing the Marshall Project findings pertaining to Baton Rouge, “Between 2017 and 2019, Baton Rouge police dogs bit at least 146 people, records show. Of those, 53 were 17 years old or younger; the youngest were just 13. Almost all of the people bitten were black, and most were unarmed and suspected by police of nonviolent crimes like driving a stolen vehicle or burglary.”
The Marshall Project has “examined bites by police dogs in the nation’s 20 largest cities from 2017 through 2019,” Stole and Toohey wrote, “as well as more than 30 other law enforcement agencies whose use of police dogs has sparked controversy.”
Baton Rouge police dogs bite at twice the rate of the next highest city
Among those 50 cities, the Baton Rouge Advocate and the Marshall Project found, the Baton Rouge Police Department “had the second highest per-capita rate of dogs biting suspects. Only the police department in Auburn, Washington, a much smaller city, had a higher rate.”
Further, Baton Rouge had the highest rate of police dogs biting juveniles, the Baton Rouge Advocate and the Marshall Project learned, among the 13 other cities for which reporters could obtain the ages of victims.
From 2017 through 2019, Stole and Toohey disclosed, Baton Rouge Police Department dogs “bit 146 people, a rate of 66 per 100,000 people, more than double that of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police, which has the highest bite rate of the departments in the 20 largest U.S. cities.
“Stark racial disparities”
“The analysis also revealed stark racial disparities in dog bites in Baton Rouge,” Stole and Toohey continued. “All but two of the 53 minors attacked by a Baton Rouge Police Department police dog during those three years were black. So, too, were more than 90% of the adults bitten, even though black residents make up just over half of the city’s population. And in every instance, according to Baton Rouge Police Department records, the officer handling the police dog was white.”
While Silas Clouatre was armed, and did shoot the police dog Mack––after Mack bit him––Stole and Toohey reported that “In an overwhelming majority of cases, there was no evidence the people bitten by K-9s posed a grave threat. Almost all were unarmed; less than 9% of them were caught with a weapon.
“Dispatch codes—which show what callers reported to 911 operators—indicate that in nearly every case,” Stole and Toohey said, “police were responding to suspected nonviolent property crimes.”
Echoes of Birmingham
Recalled Stole and Toohey, “During the early 1960s, police in Birmingham, Alabama, used their dogs to attack peaceful black marchers; images of the savage assaults helped elevate the civil rights movement. More recently, a federal probe of Ferguson, Missouri, police following 2015 demonstrations over the police killing of Michael Brown found that dogs, were repeatedly used excessively, and exclusively, on black residents.”
Baton Rouge mayor Sharon Weston Broome, elected in December 2016, and police chief Murphy Paul, on the job since January 2018, are both black. Both came to their positions after decades of frequent complaints from the black community about alleged police brutality and discrimination in hiring
Baton Rouge police under order to integrate for 39 years
Summarized Grace Toohey in July 2018, six months after Paul took office, “About 55% of residents of Louisiana’s capital city are black, but only about 33% of Baton Rouge Police Department officers are black, according to the city’s most recent report to the U.S. Department of Justice. And of the 643 officers employed by Baton Rouge Police Department, only about 9 percent are women. The majority of officers are white men, the statistics show.
“Baton Rouge is one of the last Louisiana cities still under a 1980 federal consent decree intended to decrease discrimination against black and women applicants,” Toohey explained, a year before the decree was lifted in June 2019, “and to increase their opportunity to be hired and promoted in police and fire departments.
“The original consent decree spanned the state, including almost 40 municipalities from Shreveport to Sulphur, Bastrop to Harahan,” Toohey mentioned. “But in the last decades the vast majority of those cities have been released from the decree, some as early as 1998 and most in 2012.”
Arrival of police dogs coincided with last Baton Rouge lynching
Racist attitudes lingering among white police officers, who are still about two-thirds of the Baton Rouge Police Department, might appear to explain the disparity in use of dogs against black suspects.
But the issue of dog use by Baton Rouge police does not appear, in historical context, to be as black-and-white as the Marshall Project findings from recent years indicate.
For instance, at least 719 black people are known to have been lynched in Louisiana between 1868 and 1946, when the last Louisiana lynching on record occurred.
In all that time, however, only five black people were lynched in Baton Rouge, all between 1890 and 1912.
The last lynching in Baton Rouge came just a few months after the city became one of the first in the U.S. to deploy police dogs.
But Baton Rouge police dogs got little ink for 100 years
The archives of the Baton Rouge Advocate and other local newspapers accessible through NewspaperArchive.com offer no clue as to why use of police dogs should coincide with an end to lynching, while lynching continued throughout the rest of Louisiana for another 34 years.
Indeed, Baton Rouge police dog use seldom got a mention in print in any context until relatively recent years. The few articles about Baton Rouge police dogs that did appear pertained mostly to parade and detective work, including a 1928 case in which dogs helped to find a missing eight-year-old black boy who was discovered, well after dark, stuck in a crawl space under a house.
The only mention of an injury inflicted by a police dog came when a police officer from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, leaned into the window of a Baton Rouge K9 patrol car and was bitten.
Did police dog use soar after the 1980 consent decree?
In short, the issues pertaining to Baton Rouge use of police dogs, while perhaps related to the racial disparity in Baton Rouge Police Department hiring and other alleged discriminatory police use of violence, may have originated much more recently than the issues leading to the 1980 consent decree.
Observed dog behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova in her January 2015 ANIMALS 24-7 guest column, Police dogs should be trained as officers, not equipment, “Civil claims against law enforcement agencies that employ dogs have risen sharply since 1997. Not only are more law enforcement agencies using dogs, but the bite rates have gone up. Where in the 1990s there was a dog bite in about 10% of suspect apprehensions, the rate has gone up now to 30% or more in many jurisdictions,” including Baton Rouge, where the bite rate in suspect apprehensions was 36% in 2017-2019, according to the Marshall Protect.
“An investigation by the Special Counsel of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department published in September 2013,” Semyonova continued, “revealed a trend to use dogs where previously lesser force had been used. Investigations in British Columbia, Canada, Queensland, Australia, and the United Kingdom show similar increases.”
Police dogs & police use of firearms
Semyonova attributed the increased use of dogs in part toward changing trends in how police dogs are trained.
But police dogs are not being used in lieu of firearms. The use of firearms by police has climbed since 2000, from about 300 justifiable fatal shootings by U.S. police per year to more than 450, according to “Understanding Recent Spikes and Longer Trends in American Murders,” by Columbia University law professors Jeffrey Fagan and Daniel Richman in a recent (2021) edition of the Columbia Law Review.
This has occurred even as fatal shootings of police officers have declined from about 50 per year to about 40.
Abraham Wilson III shot two pit bulls
Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, no police officers are known to have been disciplined for misuse of dogs in recent years, but Abraham Wilson III, an African-American officer serving since 2012, was in 2017 suspended for five days for shooting two pit bulls who reportedly chased a robbery victim under a house.
Wilson tried to stop the pit bulls with mace and a Taser, fired twice as the pit bulls approached. When the two pit bulls charged Wilson, and the Taser failed on his third attempt to use it, Wilson shot the lead pit bull dead.
Then-Baton Rouge police chief Carl Dabadie, who is white, initially suspended Wilson for 10 days, but the suspension was reduced to five days on appeal by the Magnolia State Peace Officers Association to the Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board.
14 dead in 22 years
While the reasons for the frequency of Baton Rouge Police Department dog use against black juveniles appear to require further elucidation to fully understand, especially since such attacks have apparently markedly increased even as the force racially diversified under the federal consent decree, the reason for the elevated dog attack fatality and injury rates in Louisiana is evident just from a roster of the dead and the dogs who killed them:
1999 – Michael Lewis, 10, killed by two family Rottweilers, New Orleans.
2000 – Ramani Virgil, 2, killed by family pit bull, Westwego.
2001 – William Kirsh, 59, killed by chow, Westwego.
2003 – Lionel Hampson, fatal infection from German shepherd police dog bite, New Orleans.
2008 – Luna McDaniel, 83, killed by three pit bulls running at large, Ville Platte.
2008 – Kelly Chapman, 24, killed by her own two pit bulls, Longville, Beauregard Parish.
2009 – Michael Blaise Landry, 4, killed by neighbor’s three boxers, Morganza.
2014 – Mia Derouen, 4, killed by family pit bull, Houma.
2015 – Bobbie Chevallier, 85, killed by neighbor’s 15 dogs running at large, Grant Parish.
2018 – Laura Williams Ray, 53, killed by pit bull at boarding kennel, West Monroe.
2018 – Malinda “Pug” Nations, 74, killed by four pit bulls running at large, Vidalia.
2020 – Geraldine Hamlin, 64, killed by her two pit bulls in her home, Shreveport.
2020 – Roxie Wright Parker, 60, killed by pit bull who attacked her Chihuahua, Monroe.
2020 – Barbara Cook, 72, killed by daughter’s two pit bulls, Mandeville.
In addition, Linda Henry, 54, of Westwego, in March 2013 lost both arms, an eye, and an ear to her own four pit bulls, in one of the most severe dog attacks that anyone has ever survived.
Note that 12 of the 16 Louisiana dog attack fatalities listed above, and all but one of the 11 pit bull fatalities, came after the 2007 Michael Vick dogfighting case in Virginia triggered a nationwide effort to rehome impounded pit bulls, led by the American SPCA, Animal Farm Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S., and Maddie’s Fund.
Louisiana has been a hub of dogfighting and gambling on illegal dogfights for as long as any documentation of either activity has existed in the U.S.
Dogfighters have had so much political influence in Louisiana that in April 1961 humane investigators found themselves unable to do anything more about a dogfighting convention held in the city of Ruston, than to deplore it to the Ruston Daily Leader and United Press International.
Yet only two fatal dog attacks before 1999
Yet only two fatal dog attacks are known to have occurred in Louisiana before 1999.
Dogfighter and pit bull breeder Charles Werner of New Orleans, in an April 1911 letter to the magazine Dog Fancier, boasted of selling his “cull” dogs as pets. Other dogfighters denounced this practice as likely to bring deaths and injuries outside the “fancy,” leading to greater legislative and law enforcement interest in dogfighting.
While there seems to be no record of any direct connection with Werner, four-year-old John T. Michel Jr. was killed by an uncle’s pit bull in New Orleans in September 1917.
Four years later, in December 1921, four-year-old Anthony Vento of Orleans Parish was killed by a pit bull kept as a pet by his uncle Alphonse LaForte.
“For three years the boy and the dog were inseparable,” the New Orleans Times Picayune reported. “The dog was acquired when the child was born and from babyhood and puppyhood they grew together.”
After that, there appears to have been little more talk in Louisiana of pit bulls as pets for close to 80 years.