A Frederick County Circuit Court jury has awarded $620,000 to a Taneytown couple whose Labrador retriever was shot by sheriff’s deputies.
While Roger and Sandra Jenkins rushed to the vet with their severely wounded dog, who survived, the two deputies entered the home and searched it for the Jenkinses’ 18-year-old son, who was wanted for missing a juvenile court hearing.
“The policy is shoot the dog first, ask questions later,” said the Jenkinses’ attorney, Cary J. Hansel III. “Maryland residents aren’t going to put up with their animals being shot by deputies.”
The jury found late Monday that Deputy Timothy Brooks violated the couple’s rights when he shot Brandi, their 7-year-old chocolate lab, whom they said clearly posed no threat to the officer. The jury also found Brooks and fellow Deputy Nathan Rector violated the Jenkinses’ rights by entering their home on Jan. 9, 2010, at about 7 a.m.
But Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins, no relation to the couple, continued to defend his deputies’ actions after the verdict, saying Brandi had been aggressive.
“Our policy has never been to shoot a domestic animal,” the sheriff said Tuesday. “Deputy Brooks felt that this dog was a threat and he made a decision. We could all second-guess now.”
The dog’s shooting was recorded by a dashboard camera on one of the deputies’ vehicles. During the trial, Hansel said, he played that video for the jury “multiple times.”
He praised the verdict as a victory for all homeowners.
“The jury reaffirmed the fact that a man’s home is his castle and that these people have every right to be safe and secure in their home without police intrusion,” said Hansel, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake PA in Greenbelt.
Despite the court defeat, the sheriff said he continues to believe in the jury system.
“In this particular case, I was disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “I was very disappointed in the excessive jury award.” He said he has had “some conversations” with counsel about appealing the verdict but that no decision has been made.
The jury concluded that Brooks acted with gross negligence and unconstitutionally deprived the Jenkinses of property without due process of law when he shot Brandi. Jurors also found both deputies violated the Jenkinses’ constitutional privilege against unreasonable searches by entering the home.
The sheriff said Brooks and Rector had Roger Jenkins’ permission to search the house, contrary to Jenkins’ testimony at trial.
“My deputies have said since day one that they had consent to enter the home,” the sheriff said. “Mr. Jenkins says otherwise. I guess Mr. Jenkins convinced the jury.”
Hansel argued in court papers that a cooperative Roger Jenkins told the two deputies who knocked on his door to wait so he could put his dogs outside in their kennel. Brandi, who was already outside, barked upon seeing the deputies’ vehicles and was following Jenkins to the kennel when Brooks fired his weapon at the dog.
The dog gave a “piercing” yelp, which prompted Sandra Jenkins to rush out of the house. She tried to stanch Brandi’s bleeding with rags. The Jenkinses told the officers to move their vehicles so they could get Brandi to the animal hospital, according to the lawsuit.
As he and Sandra rushed to the car with Brandi, Roger Jenkins said he told the officer not to enter the house.
The deputies contended Jenkins never made such a request, and that they relied on his earlier permission to enter.
The deputies searched all the rooms until they found the son, Jerrett, who had missed a juvenile-court hearing on a drug possession charge, Hansel said. Jerrett was arrested but later released, the attorney added.
Meanwhile, the Jenkinses arrived at the animal hospital, where Brandi was stabilized. They then drove the dog to their regular veterinarian.
The jury’s award included $600,000 in compensation for the couple’s mental anguish and $20,000 for their economic loss, which consisted largely of Brandi’s past and future veterinary expenses.
Brandi required weekly visits and still needs extensive medication. The dog continues to have health problems and must have frequent checkups because the medication can cause extreme liver damage, Hansel said.
Attorney Rebekah D. Lusk, of the Thienel Law Firm LLC in Columbia, served as Hansel’s co-counsel.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard presided over the trial, as the Frederick County Circuit Court judges had recused themselves.
Click here to watch the deputies’ video of the incident.
ROGER JENKINS ET AL. V. CHARLES A. JENKINS ET AL.
Frederick County Circuit Court
Marielsa A. Bernard
Event: Jan. 9, 2010
Suit filed: Oct. 25, 2010
Jury Verdict: April 2, 2012
Cary J. Hansel III of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake PA in Greenbelt
Daniel Karp and Michael B. Rynd of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp PA in Baltimore and Assistant Maryland Attorney General Roger L. Wolfe Jr.
Unlawful custom, pattern and practice; trespass; reckless endangerment; constitutional violations; negligence; intentional infliction of emotional distress.