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Humane Society clears officer in slaying of dog

A Humane Society of Utah official has determined that no violation of Utah cruelty laws occurred in the Sept. 28 shooting of a loose dog by a jogging, on-duty police officer.

Salt Lake police officer Matt Larson believed he was in immediate danger when the dog, a 93-pound Labrador-mix named Bro, approached him, and the officer killed the animal, John Paul Fox, the society's chief cruelty investigator, said.Larson was exercising on his lunch break when he met the dog on 100 South near 700 East about 11:30 p.m.

A state medical examiner's check of X-rays and photographs of the dead dog disputed a claim by Bro's owner, Adele Breeden, that the dog was shot while running away from the officer.

Fox confirmed that there "is no evidence that showed any criminal wrongdoing (by Larson). All of the wrongdoing that I can see is the animal owner in not restraining the animal."

But Larson, who has served three years on the police force, is still the subject of a police internal affairs investigation.

The officer told the Deseret News that when he saw the dog come out of a parking lot, it was running toward him and barking. He said the dog was "definitely in attack mode."

Larson backed up. But when Bro kept coming and kept barking, Larson drew his department-issued handgun and shot Bro three times before the dog fell, almost at his feet. The last shot struck the pet in the head.

The police department has been flooded with telephone calls from critics who maintain Larson acted hastily but also from those who believe that the dog owner should have leashed the animal.

Breeden said during a press gathering last week that a veterinarian (Drew Allen) reported that one bullet had hit Bro in the back of the leg, indicating the dog was fleeing from Larson. Breeden also said Larson then walked up to the animal and fired the fatal head shot.

Internal affairs investigators sent photographs of the animal and X-rays to the medical examiner to make a determination. A report from the medical examiner's office shows all three shots were went from the front to the rear of the animal.

Allen said that Breeden, in her statements to the news media, had "overstated" his analysis of the direction with which the shots were fired.

Fox said the Humane Society doesn't like to see or doesn't condone animal killing, "but there are times when it is allowed by law."

Fox said, "I have talked to the officer. He told me a very clear story that it was his belief that he was being attacked by the dog and that if he hadn't acted immediately that he would have been attacked or injured. I don't have any information that would cause me to believe otherwise."

Fox said photos taken of the dog after the shooting show that the "only wound in question was a wound on the rear left leg of the dog." Fox said Utah law allows a person to kill an animal in self-defense.

"If the person perceives they are in immediate threat or danger of injury or attack, the law allows you to use force to repel the attack up to and including deadly force, if necessary," Fox said.

Breeden's attorney, Gary B. Ferguson, said that "blood stains on the sidewalk showed that the dog was moving away from the officer. Adele Breeden told me that she saw the shooting and that at the time of the second shot, her dog was past the officer and going toward home a quarter block away. (She said that) after the second shot was fired, the officer walked over to the dog, shot it in the head and killed it."

Breeden initially told the Deseret News that she only heard the shots, called to Bro, then when she rounded the corner she saw the officer standing over her dog.

Ferguson said he had not seen the medical examiner's report. "I need to review the report. My intention is to have X-rays of the dog and the photos reviewed by additional experts."

The attorney said he had requested copies of the medical examiner's report along with information from the police department.

"At this point client (Breeden) is not dropping the case."