Costa Mesa has agreed to pay a family $225,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged two police officers were wrong when they shot Paul, the family’s brindle pit bull, 15 times and killed him.
The dog was killed May 13, 2004, as police chased two boys through the family’s backyard. Police said the boys, who were friends of the family, had run away from officers who were issuing them citations for riding their bikes without helmets.
“The death of Paul changed my family’s life,” said Mary-Jo Mansfield, mother of the family who owned the dog. “I don’t think the police ever felt remorse, and we never heard they were sorry.”
Harold Potter, the assistant city attorney who negotiated the settlement, said Paul was poised to attack and that police were in the right when they killed him.
“There has absolutely been no determination of police misconduct,” he said, but other factors led to the city’s payout. “For one thing, juries like dogs more than people.”
The family’s attorney, Jerry Steering, said witnesses of the bike riders’ flight from police had pointed officers to the Mansfield home as their hiding place. When police knocked on the door, Mansfield’s son, Cody Holst, then 17, answered. When he declined to immediately allow the officers to search his home, Steering said, two other officers jumped over the backyard fence and were confronted by Paul.
Steering said Paul sniffed Officer Eric Wisener’s crotch. Another officer, Jeff Graham, told the Daily Pilot newspaper in 2004 that the dog bit Wisener. The two officers responded by shooting the dog.
Steering said in a news release that before the shooting, police pointed their guns at Cody Holst’s 16-year-old brother, Billy, and would not let him put Paul and the family’s other pit bull in the house. The release also said that after shooting Paul, officers tackled Cody, pushed Billy to the ground and handcuffed him, and then taunted the brothers.
The family had acquired the dog from a shelter after he was found as a puppy in a trash can suffering from rickets.
Mansfield and her sons filed suit in federal court, saying the officers wrongfully denied them the use of their property: Paul.
During the legal proceeding, which was settled with the help of a mediator, Potter acknowledged that tapes of the radio transmissions made during the incident were improperly destroyed. He said in an interview that the erasure was unintentional and occurred when the tapes were reused to record radio transmissions months later.
Wisener’s uniform was also not available during the legal proceeding. Steering had requested that it be produced to determine whether the officer had been bitten. Potter said the uniform had already “outlived its useful life and was thrown out.”
Steering said Mansfield and her two boys “are going to use the money to move out of town.”