A federal judge has almost doubled the amount of money the city of Des Moines must pay to the owners of Rosie, the Newfoundland fatally shot by police in 2010, adding $50,000 in attorneys’ costs and fees to the $51,000 the city has already agreed to pay the dog’s owners.
At a hearing earlier this month, U.S. District Judge James Robart dismissed the city’s efforts to limit the amount of money paid to the attorneys for Deirdre and Charles Wright, whose pet Newfoundland was shot four times by police after they used a Taser on the dog
and chased it from its yard.
The city’s lawyers had asked that the fees paid to animal-rights lawyer Adam Karp be reduced by the amount of money that had been donated privately by friends, fellow Newfoundland owners and others outraged by the incident to help cover the Wrights’ legal bills.
Des Moines had also asked the court to determine the city did not have to pay for any fees the Wrights accrued during a yearlong battle to have the two police officers charged criminally before the Wrights filed their lawsuit in federal court.
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Robart ruled against the city on both fronts, and in doing so chastised its attorneys for unnecessary hyperbole in their briefs and propounding “ridiculous” arguments, according to a transcript of the April 1 hearing.
Documents filed by the city’s outside attorney, Shannon Ragonesi, accused the Wrights of “persecution” in their attempt to seek justice against the officers in criminal court, even though no charges were ever filed.
“The treatment of the Jews by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, that was a persecution. What Nazi Germany did in the Third Reich, that is a persecution,” Robart said. He named others: the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia by the British; the treatment of the Aboriginal people in Australia; ethnic cleansing.
Robart said using that sort of hyperbole demonstrated not just “terrible writing” but a “lack of civility.”
“When someone seeks to believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are attempting to bring these people to justice, that is not a persecution,” the judge said.
Shannon Ragonesi, an attorney who represented Des Moines and the officers, said the city and its police department admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. She pointed out that the Wrights’ lawyers had asked for nearly $98,000, but received just half. As for the judge’s criticism, Ragonesi pointed out that it was directed at her writing style and not a “reflection of the court’s opinion of my client’s action.”
The Wrights had sued the city and police officers Michael Graddon and Steve Wieland for killing the 115-pound dog, which had escaped from the Wrights’ backyard while they were out of town overnight Nov. 7, 2010. The dog was sitting in their driveway barking when neighbors called police, worried that she might run into the street and be hurt.
The officers responded and decided to shoot the dog within minutes of arriving. They first used Tasers on the dog twice, and chased her four blocks into a stranger’s backyard, where Rosie fled into a blackberry bramble. Graddon shot the dog four times with an assault rifle as she stood there.
The entire incident was captured on audio tape, one officer can be heard exclaiming “Nice!” after the first round was fired.
The officers were not disciplined for the incident, and Ragonesi pointed out earlier that two reviews of the event concluded the officers had acted appropriately.
Outrage over Rosie’s killing spawned memorials and a legal-defense fund. Ragonesi had asked Robart to subtract any fundraising from legal fees owed by the city, arguing it violated rules preventing attorneys from “double recovery” of fees.
“That is not the situation we have here,” Robart said. “where people wish to contribute to a fund to finance litigation in support of the principles that they believe in, namely, don’t shoot dogs.”
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.