The Bellingham Police Department Review Board has determined that an officer followed department policy and was justified when he intentionally discharged his service weapon in response to a threat on October 12 which resulted in the death of a dog.
Two BPD Officers, Officer Clark Bourgault and Officer Andrew Wassel, were conducting follow-up on a theft investigation in the 1300 block of Orleans Street in the late afternoon. When the officers arrived on scene, they observed that the rear sliding glass door of the suspect's apartment was partially open. Officer Wassel remained outside to observe the rear door while Officer Bourgault proceeded to the front door to make contact with the suspect.
Video footage from Officer Bourgault shows him approach the apartment and knock on the door. An unidentified male opens the front door to the apartment and begins a conversation with Officer Bourgault. The sound of a dog barking is audible on the video followed by a loud noise. The unidentified male asks Officer Bourgault what made the noise. Officer Bourgault quickly turns and runs toward Officer Wassel where he discovers that Officer Wassel has just discharged his service weapon. A dog is lying on the ground near Officer Wassel and a female is visibly upset, but unharmed.
Meanwhile, video footage from the Officer Wassel shows a female walking quickly from the area behind the apartment toward the Civic Field parking lot. Officer Wassel begins moving from his observation point toward the female while yelling her name. Almost immediately, a large brown dog appears and begins following the female toward Civic Field. While Officer Wassel is attempting to contact the female, the dog turns and begins charging toward him. The dog takes an aggressive stance, barks, growls, and bares its teeth at the officer. Officer Wassel begins moving backward to create distance between himself and the dog. The dog continues aggressively charging at Officer Wassel. Based on his reasonable belief that the dog was about to attack him, Officer Wassel draws his service weapon and fires one round to stop the dog from attacking him.
The Department has policies governing the use of force and the discharge of service weapons. Supervising officers and detectives were called out to the scene that evening to investigate the incident in accordance with those policies. The investigation includes witness statements from the dog's owner, the male present in the apartment that night, and the Officers involved. The investigation is complete and the following facts were learned during the interviews:
The deceased dog was an approximately 80 pound German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix female. The dog's owner reported that the dog was not socialized and did not like other people or other dogs. If the dog perceived a threat to its owner, she was very protective. The owner stated that her dog was “protecting her” when it ran toward Officer Wassel. The owner and Officer Wassel both described the dog as having the hair (or fur) on its back standing up, baring its teeth, while barking and growling as it charged toward Officer Wassel.
As stated the night of the incident any loss of life is tragic. The police department convened a shooting review board as required by departmental policy. The review board reviewed all of the facts and circumstances including the available video footage and the witness statements. The board determined that Officer Wassel's action was justified by his reasonable belief that the dog intended to attack him in defense of its owner. The board did not identify any additional training that should be required for Officer Wassel. Finally, the board did not recommend any disciplinary or corrective action for Officer Wassel.