ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – An Orlando-area family claims their dog, Audi, was unnecessarily shot by Orange County sheriff’s deputies, and they are now filing a federal lawsuit against the agency.
Kimberly Vanderbilt told News 6 the shooting happened on May 30, 2018, adding that she saw deputies with a police dog enter her backyard unannounced.
“I opened the window to find out what’s going on, and he put his finger up, (implying) ‘Shhh,’” she said. “So, I thought something bad was about to happen.”
She said she later found out the deputies were trying to arrest a man in connection with a burglary at the home next to them.
“I heard five shots. I ran back to the room, and I saw Audi lying down over here bleeding,” she said.
Audi is her 5-year-old red-nosed pit bull that was shot three times.
“It’s OK to enter somebody’s private property and not even get their permission?” Vanderbilt asked. “There’s a beware-of-dog sign and a little dog thing (on the gate. None of it made sense.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office told News 6 there were no cameras activated at the time the dog was shot, but they were turned on when deputies accompanied the family to the emergency veterinarian.
The video showed a vet worker telling Vanderbilt that she needed to put down a $1,000 deposit before the office would perform surgery.
“Listen, she’s basically saying she’s going to let the dog die unless we give $1,000 right now,” Vanderbilt is heard saying. “So, someone needs to authorize something.”
The veterinarian eventually performed the surgery, and Audi survived with a $4,000 bill.
“When you’re home, you think you’re OK and safe,” Vanderbilt said. “The very same people who you’re supposed to call for help, they are violating you.”
“The dog was shot by officers who had no right to be on the property in the first place,” attorney Mary LaHart said.
LaHart filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Vanderbilt and her son against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and two of the deputies who responded.
The lawsuit claims deputies violated policies and procedures, illegally searched and seized their property and negligence.
“If you walk by a beware-of-dog sign and then immediately pull out your gun when you see a dog on someone’s private property, you’re either not properly trained or not very smart,” LaHart said.
“Imagine you’re in your backyard and that happens to you. How would you feel?” News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer said.
Kramer said there are some troubling aspects about what happened in the family’s backyard, but whether deputies violated the Vanderbilts’ rights will ultimately be up to a jury.
“They could have knocked on the door ahead of time and said, ‘Hey, we need to go to the backyard. You need to put your animals inside, and if you have children, make sure you bring them inside. We’ll be in and out before you even know it,’” he said. “If they had done that, that might’ve been a reasonable position for the police to take.”
According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the deputies claimed they were trying to protect their police dog when they saw Audi.
None of them were investigated or disciplined as a result.
Vanderbilt said she is not looking for a payout; she said she’s looking for results.
“Cooperate with our attorney, re-train these officers, apologize for the mistake you made and don’t let it happen again,” she said.
A guide of best practices has been developed by a coalition of animal welfare organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice. You can read it by clicking here.