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Man says dog killed by police was loyal and 'died for me'

ShootingsCrime, Law and JusticeTheft

Leon Rosby was thrust into the spotlight after a video of his dog being fatally shot by Hawthorne police went viral, sparking outrage and raising the ire of local civil rights activists.

The married father of three and ordained minister on Tuesday said the shooting was an act of retaliation by police for allegations he had made against the department. Police officials, meanwhile, issued new details about their investigation of the incident.

Rosby, 52, said he was returning home from the park Sunday afternoon with his 2-year-old Rottweiler, Max. His home is about a block from 137th Street and Jefferson Avenue, where police officers were engaged in a nearly two-hour standoff with armed robbery suspects that ended with one suspect taken into custody. 

Discussion: Weigh in on shooting of dog by Hawthorne police

“I got out of the vehicle with my dog and took some video with my phone to make sure their civil rights weren’t being violated,” Rosby said.

Rosby, a licensed contractor and former basketball coach, said he recognized one of the two officers at the scene as one of the defendants in his March 2013 complaint filed against the city of Hawthorne. Rosby alleges that the officer, along with several others, assaulted and brutalized him in July 2012.

On Sunday, Rosby said officers accused him of resisting even though he was handcuffed.

“I hollered out to the crowd, ‘No, I’m not,’” said Rosby, explaining that more than 75 people were standing nearby, some also shooting  video.

Max then jumped out of the car through an open window, Rosby said.

“At that point, I said, ‘No, Max, no!’ ” Rosby said.

A third officer came onto the scene, tried to grab the dog’s leash, then fired four shots at the Rottweiler.

“It was devastating,” Rosby said. “His love for me was so extraordinary that he actually died for me.”

Rosby said he was booked by Hawthorne police at 8:15 p.m., cited for interfering with officers and released around 5 a.m.

Police confiscated his phone, he said, and reviewed his video footage while he was handcuffed in the back of the police car. He said police had yet to return his phone.

A statement posted by the department Monday night said loud music coming from Rosby's car, his close proximity to police officers and the presence of his dog "created an increasingly dangerous situation."

Authorities contrasted Rosby's behavior with other bystanders in the nearby crowd who were "at a safe distance" and "compliant" to officers' requests.

Rosby's Rottweiler "became agitated" and officers on the scene attempted to grab hold of the dog's leash, police said. Only after the dog "lunged and made aggressive movements toward the officers" did an officer open fire, police said.

The police department said it was still investigating the incident, including an internal investigation that is standard any time an officer discharges a firearm.

Police spokesman Lt. Scott Swain said that the department will also collect statements and evidence, including all video footage, and submit it within 30 days to the L.A. County district attorney's office.

Rosby and his lawyer say he was singled out by police because of his lawsuit against the department, which includes allegations of racial profiling and use of excessive force. Charges against Rosby stemming from a July 2012 domestic quarrel were dismissed, he said. 

"I have a history with the Hawthorne Police Department," Rosby said. "They know me when I’m in the area."

Swain declined to comment on pending litigation involving the department, but said that Rosby's personnel complaints against officers -- which can be made by any civilian in person -- were under investigation.

Rosby's arrest and the shooting of his dog have gained global interest online and generated outrage on social media.

The original video of the shooting has received nearly 900,000 views. Comments critical of the Hawthorne Police Department are also flooding the department's Facebook page, phone lines and email accounts.

"Our system has been overloaded with ugly emails and calls," Swain said, adding that much fury is being directed toward him. Some of the calls are "credible" threats against the department, he said.

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable weighed in on the shooting, saying Rosby committed no crime and calling for Hawthorne Mayor Danny Juarez to launch a fast-track investigation into the officers' conduct.

"The arrest and shooting by Hawthorne police was unprovoked and were a gross violation of the dog owner’s civil rights," the group's president, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, said.

Two suspects remain at large from the armed robbery-turned-barricade that preceded the shooting of Rosby's dog, police said. Authorities have not released the name of the one suspect in custody, citing the continuing investigation in that case.

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Twitter: @mattthamiltonn

matthew.hamilton@latimes.com

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