A Deadly Game of Fetch

Long Beach is a city on the edge: rising racial tensions between blacks and Latinos, rival gangs gunning down teenagers in front of police substations—even junior high school students are being arrested for massacring defenseless sharks in the city aquarium. But at least local residents can sleep at night knowing the Long Beach Police Department is enforcing the city's dog-leash laws.

On March 23, Long Beach police cited downtown-loft resident Jennie Ullrich for failure to keep her dogs, Bazoo and Dozer, on a leash while Ullrich played fetch with the two animals at Drake Park. The ticket came shortly after a Long Beach police detective shot Bazoo twice when he apparently felt threatened by the dog, who was running toward him with a tennis ball in her mouth in a park frequented by children, joggers and people playing fetch with their dogs.

The incident occurred just before 6 a.m., when Sergeant Steve Lauricella, a Long Beach police detective, and another officer were walking toward their car after attempting to serve an arrest warrant across the street from Drake Park. According to a police spokesperson, Lauricella saw Bazoo running toward him, warned the dog's owner to stop the charging beast, and then fired at the dog—but not before backing up so quickly that he broke off his car's side mirror.

“He did the only thing he believed he could do to avoid being bit—he fired at the dog,” said Sergeant David Cannan, a Long Beach public-information officer. “The dog was moving so fast it continued moving and hit the car.”

But Ullrich said Lauricella never issued any warning before he shot Bazoo. She said she usually plays fetch with her two dogs each morning in a baseball diamond at the park. Since it had rained the night before, the athletic field was too muddy, so she chose an area of the park near a children's jungle gym. She said she had just thrown the ball and Bazoo had caught it and stopped on the sidewalk when Lauricella suddenly pulled out a gun and shot Bazoo in the paw.

“I said, 'Don't shoot—she won't bite; she won't hurt you,'” Ullrich said. “And [Lauricella] put his hand up and said, 'Stand back.' She was already down on the sidewalk, and he shot her again. When he shot her the second time, she jumped up and just took off running, and my other dog took off after her.”

Ullrich said both she and officers chased after the injured dog, who ran wildly through downtown Long Beach before arriving at the building she shares with her boyfriend, JP Donahue, a screenwriter who happens to also be an ex-Army Ranger and non-practicing attorney.

“She tried to get in the back door of our building, and her bloody paw prints were all over the door,” Ullrich said. “She still had the tennis ball in her mouth. She dropped the tennis ball in the alley. Then six or eight cop cars were there, and all these cops were standing around me, and I was covered in her blood. It was so traumatic.”

One of the officers buzzed Donahue to come down to the alley. “I run outside, and I see my girlfriend covered in blood and tears and Bazoo is on the pavement dying,” Donahue recalled. “Jennie is screaming, 'They shot our dog!' and, 'Which one of you motherfuckers shot my dog?' She was pretty angry.”

Donahue said police refused to allow him or Ullrich to take Bazoo to the hospital. “They said it was standard practice to keep witnesses held in an officer-involved shooting,” Donahue said. “I said I wasn't a witness. They said I couldn't leave because I was one of the owners of the dog.” After about 45 minutes, animal-control officers arrived and took Bazoo to Lakewood Animal Hospital.

Donahue said a police watch commander came to the alley shortly thereafter and claimed that Bazoo had “attacked” one of his officers. Donahue said he asked whether the officer had any bite marks. “He got right up in my face and yelled, 'Are you calling me a liar?'” At that point, Donahue said, he informed the watch commander that he was a lawyer. Police then allowed him and Ullrich to go inside their building to wait for a homicide detective to arrive.

Donahue added that when the detective later attempted to interview Ullrich inside their apartment, he advised her not to answer any questions. “We had been held in custody for an excess of three hours,” he said. “The last thing they did was write a misdemeanor ticket for having a dog off a leash. Then they left.”

As an ex-Army Ranger, Donahue said, he's been in situations where he's used a firearm to protect his life and said he can understand that the officer may have felt threatened when he shot Bazoo. “Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I think he didn't see my girlfriend playing fetch and saw a big dog and just knee-jerk shot the dog,” Donahue said. “I'm not a cop-hater.”

Donahue added that he told police that if they could get Lauricella to admit his mistake and pay for Bazoo's medical care, he wouldn't file a complaint for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. “They looked at me like I was crazy,” he said.

Donahue faxed the Weeklya signed statement in Spanish by Aniceto Ruiz, who said he witnessed the shooting. “I am witness to what I saw the day that an officer shot a dog that was playing with a ball,” Ruiz wrote, adding that he didn't hear the officer issue a verbal warning before he pulled the trigger.

After several hours in the hospital, Bazoo came home alive and well despite two gunshot wounds. However, pressure inside the dog's head caused a series of seizures, so Bazoo went back to the hospital for treatment. “There could be brain damage,” Ullrich said. “She is on a lot of pain medication. She is a very mellow dog but is a little slower and traumatized. We're just happy she's alive.”

The Long Beach Police Department's Sergeant Cannan said homicide detectives were still investigating the shooting, after which a police-shooting review board would decide whether the shooting was within department policy.

“Yeah, a dog was shot; we aren't denying that,” Cannan said. “But nobody looks to use deadly force any time throughout their career. Any time it does happen, we are very serious about investigating, and we will investigate it very seriously.”



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