Roommates File $16M Lawsuit After Prince George’s County, MD, Police Kill Pet Dog
Four Maryland roommates who say officers illegally entered their apartment and then shot and killed their pet dog, a boxer mix named Hennessy, are suing Prince George's County and the three involved officers for $16 million in damages. The plaintiffs include roommates Umana Erika, Erazo Sanchez, Dayri Amaya Benitez, and Brandon Cuevas.
The four plaintiffs say they were at home on June 2nd, 2021, when two Prince George's County police officers entered their apartment without a warrant. Upon making entrance, the officers allegedly detained the roommates at gunpoint without justification before shooting the pet dog the four roommates shared.
Two officers were dispatched to the scene in response to a dog bite call at the apartment complex. Officer bodycam footage shows the two officers entering the apartment and knocking on the door. The officers were then assisted by a maintenance worker who gave the officers entry into the apartment with a master key. Soon after making entry, a third officer arrived on the scene.
According to the lawsuit, two of the plaintiffs were in their bedrooms when the officers entered the home. When the roommates told the officers they were not allowed to be there, the officers responded by saying they had probable cause to enter the apartment.
The lawsuit explains that when one of the plaintiffs came out of their bedroom, the dog followed the roommate and then began approaching the other roommate, Erica Umana, the primary owner of the dog. It was during this moment that the officers panicked and proceeded to shoot at the dog. Two of the officers fired their guns while the third officer who arrived at the scene last fired a stun gun. The dog was left paralyzed because of its injuries and would later be euthanized.
Plaintiff Umana shared with the Washington Post that during the incident, she was pleading with officers to help her dog. She says they did not do anything to help and that “they just had no remorse.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that the roommates were then arrested and held in police vehicles for about an hour before they were eventually released.
The three officers would go on to be placed on administrative leave while the police department investigated the shooting. Two of the officers were accused of “conduct unbecoming an officer” by a department investigator because they did not have a warrant when they entered the apartment.
Under state law, residents in Maryland are not obligated to invite an officer into their home unless they provide a warrant. However, in cases of an emergency or where probable cause exists, they may be able to enter. Because of exigencies — time-sensitive or pressing circumstances — the legal standard for an illegal search is subjective and can change based on the situation.
The lawsuit goes on to say that after the shooting, the county offered to compensate Umana for the veterinarian bills she had to pay in exchange for Umana to refrain from going public about the incident. Umana says she did not accept the alleged agreement.
The roommates are represented by attorney William “Billy” Murphy Jr., the same attorney who represented Freddie Gray's family, a black man who passed away in 2015 while in police custody. His death would later lead to protests and riots throughout Baltimore, garnering national attention.
In announcing the lawsuit, Murphy shared that the actions of the police department’s officers were “outrageously flagrant misconduct.” He adds, “For this to be happening in 2021 blows the mind. It is in the DNA of the founding of America that you can’t do this. You can’t get a key to somebody's house and just walk in there without getting a search warrant.”
The Prince George's County Police Department has been heavily criticized over the years for its treatment of residents, especially those from minority backgrounds. The department has been accused of decades-long police patterns of police misconduct including the use of excessive force.
Malcolm Ruff, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the county’s police officers “have no fear of reprimand, and they think that they are going to get away with treating people the way that they did. And that’s because of the history of how Prince George’s County has handled misconduct for decades.”