Editor’s warning: Video footage of the incident included in this article is graphic.
The Loveland Police Department now faces a civil lawsuit stemming from a 2019 incident where an officer shot a roughly 1-year-old dog who later had to be euthanized.
The lawsuit was made public by attorney Sarah Schielke Wednesday in an early morning press release. The suit was filed Sunday in the 8th Judicial District Court in Fort Collins.
According to the complaint, LPD officer Mat Grashorn shot a 14-month-old Staffordshire terrier and boxer mix named Herkimer that he perceived as a threat when responding to a trespassing call. The owners of the dog are asking for damages in the case.
Schielke said she was sending people to serve the suit to the LPD on Tuesday. A comment from the Loveland Police Department will be added when it becomes available.
This is the second lawsuit that Schielke has filed against the department just this year; the first came in April when she released the lawsuit and further information on the 2020 arrest of Karen Garner.
In her release Schielke included two pieces of video footage, one a clipped together video showing the incident in a more concise package as well as the unedited body-worn camera footage from Grashorn.
According to the lawsuit, at the time of the incident Wendy Love and her husband Jay Hamm owned Herkimer. The suit described him as a sweet, loving and playful dog who was beloved by his family.
“He was a good boy,” the suit reads. It also states that Herkimer, who was not a Pit bull, had no history of biting or being dangerous towards humans and was known to be affectionate and friendly.
At around 5 p.m. June 29, 2019, Love and Hamm were working for their firewood delivery business in the Loveland area. With their dogs Herkimer, black lab Max and Rhodesian ridgeback Bubba in tow, the pair stopped in a vacant parking lot next to an apparently vacant commercial building to make some repairs to a large box they were going to use for their final firewood delivery of the day.
The suit says the building in the 900 block of North Wilson Avenue had no signs and no vehicles were parked in or near it; all of the windows were covered from the inside, there were not any “no trespassing” signs and no fence was set up.
The suit claims that this level of “trespassing,” because of the lack of repellent measures, would be considered a petty offense under Colorado law.
As the couple and their dogs stood outside of their truck, the building’s owner was watching remote surveillance video from the lot and saw the truck in the back corner.
The suit claims he decided to call the LPD to investigate, telling dispatchers “that someone had tampered with the dumpster lock on the property once and he didn’t want the truck occupants to mess with it.”
Dispatchers allegedly asked him if it appeared that Love and Hamm were doing anything to the dumpster, to which he said no. He added, though, that he wanted Loveland to send police to see what they were up to.
Two officers were sent to the scene: Grashorn and officer Tim Nye.
Grashorn arrived first and exited his vehicle. The suit claims, and the video shows, that Grashorn did not give any warning to Love and Hamm that he was there.
“It was an ambush, and Grashorn knew it. He didn’t care,” the suit says. “He suspected that they were poor and wanted to surprise them, to see if they were up to anything he might be able to get an arrest for.”
When he arrived, the dogs took notice of Grashorn. Bubba began to approach the officer, who drew his gun and pointed it at the dog. Love and Hamm took notice and called Bubba back, which excited Herkimer, causing him to get up and approach the now armed officer.
While Bubba turned back, Herkimer turned and looked at the officer as he got closer. Grashorn then fired twice, hitting the dog in the face and the body, according to the suit.
Herkimer, who remained alive despite being shot twice, fell to the ground. Love began to scream and cry, begging the officer to let her help Herkimer and take him to the vet; the officer said no, and told her there was “nothing to be done,” according to the suit.
As Love continued to cry and beg to help her dog, Grashorn yelled at her, telling her the dog was dangerous and would bite her.
During this, Hamm yelled at Grashorn, asking him why he had shot a “clearly friendly dog,” according to the suit. Grashorn responded that he had “no way of knowing” whether Herkimer was friendly, that he “wasn’t in the business to get bit” and he had no interest in “waiting to find out” if the dog was friendly.
While Hamm pointed out Grashorn could have tasered him, Grashorn said he wouldn’t take the chance and that shooting the dog is the “only thing that always works,” the suit says.
As half a dozen officers showed up on scene, Love and Hamm were still refused to take their dog to the vet, the suit says. Only once Sgt. Phil Metzler arrived on scene were they allowed to take him.
The video states that after four days of suffering, Herkimer was euthanized.
The lawsuit alleges that, following the shooting, Metzler said since Love and Hamm had mentioned sharing the story with media, “we better scratch him a ticket for something.”
The suit claims that Grashorn told animal control and the veterinarians attempting to treat Herkimer that the dog attacked him. It claims police followed the family to the vet and “had their own private conversations with treating veterinarians in which they repeatedly told them that Herkimer was dangerous and had attacked police and needed to be euthanized.”
The suit also claims the vets were “pressured by police” and told Love and Hamm that Herkimer had to be put down because he was dangerous.
Two months later, Love allegedly went to the LPD to file a complaint. She was told to fill out a form, which she filled out at home. However, department officials later deemed the actions Grashorn took were appropriate.
The suit also includes sections of LPD policy on handling dogs and the Dog Protection Act, which requires officers receive a minimum of three hours of P.O.S.T certification, which will provide “an opportunity to effectively evaluate the totality of the circumstances and provide guidance on how to best manage a situation involving an interaction with a dog.”
The LPD Use of Force policy, a section of which was included in the suit, also states that an officer may use deadly force against an animal that represents a significant threat to public safety, to the officer’s safety or as a humanitarian measure if the animal is seriously injured. But, pursuant to the Dog Protection Act, “alternate types of control should be considered prior to the use of deadly force against a dog and, if feasible, allow the owner the opportunity to remove the dog from the immediate area.”
The suit claims that the day after Love went in to issue her complaint, Sgt. Robert Pride began the BlueTeam review process “despite the fact that the initial BlueTeam report from Grashorn had been sitting there, unreviewed, for 2 months.”
The report was then routed through “nearly every member of supervisory staff at the Loveland Police Department.” Comments by the reviewing supervisors, the suit says, indicated that those involved were having conversations off the record about what to do with the case; these conversations were allegedly not included in the report.
Months later in November, Lt. Bob Shaffer wrote into the report that he found no policy violations. Shaffer and assistant chief Tim Brown, now retired, allegedly continued in their review process, “stating obvious lies and falsehoods, including characterizing Herkimer as a ‘Pit Bull’ (he clearly was not) and suggesting the business owner’s complaint had alleged wrongdoing with his dumpster.”
The suit claims Brown and Shaffer referred to Love and Hamm throughout the review as trespassers. It also claims that chief Bob Ticer and other supervisory staff reviewed the body-worn camera footage and report, and declared Grashorn’s use of lethal force was justified.
The lawsuit includes four claims for relief for the family against individual officers and the city of Loveland. The claims for relief include:
- Unlawful seizure, a violation of Colorado Constitution against Grashorn
- Unlawful seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment against Grashorn, Metzler and Ticer
- Malicious prosecution, a violation of the Fourth Amendment and due process against Grashorn and Metzler
- Monell claims (a claim that creates a cause of action for damage placed against state and local governments as well as officials for any violations of the constitution and laws) for unconstitutional policies, practices and customs against the city of Loveland.
The suit requests that a jury trial be held and that the court reward Love and Hamm with, among other things, compensation for this class as well as punitive or exemplary damages against those named.
This is an ongoing story and will be updated as more information becomes available
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