A police investigation has cleared an officer for shooting a reportedly friendly dog named Dixie to death — but the officer, as well as the dog’s owners, could be facing additional charges, and department-wide changes might also be pending.

The Lorain Police Department (LPD)’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) recently issued a 103-page report that concluded the officer’s fatal use of force was “reasonable,” citing department policy and state law that allows people to kill dogs who — subjectively — are “approaching in a menacing fashion.”  

The report cites observations that Dixie was unleashed, loose, and coming toward the officer in its exoneration of his choice to fatally and repeatedly shoot her. 

But OPS also noted to LPD’s Employee Review Board that the officer violated body camera policy, initiated the encounter unnecessarily, requires additional firearms training, and should be reviewed for disciplinary action.

The officer currently is on paid administrative leave pending that review.

The report also was sent to Lorain Police Chief James McCann with recommendations for department-wide policy review and changes and to the Lorain County Prosecutor for possible criminal charges against Dixie’s family for alleged irresponsible and excessive pet ownership.

Officer Still Facing Possible Disciplinary Action

The OPS report did not take issue with the number of shots fired at Dixie — four — but did state concern that the officer had shot at Dixie even after she had been immobilized and was moving away from the officer. 

The OPS noted that the officer was “relatively new,” most likely had not fully encountered a high stress situation, and appeared to have had a hindered ability to evaluate the changing situation before him, possibly due to having been recently bitten and hospitalized by a dog in April.

“OPS is concerned with the ‘tunnel vision’ that appeared to be presenting in this incident that will need to be addressed by the [police] department’s training unit,” the report noted. “The Lorain Police Department demands better performance out of its officers.”

The officer, in an interview, said he stopped to “assist” the family with the loose dogs, although it’s unclear exactly what the officer said when first making contact with the family because the officer’s body camera footage was turned off, in violation of department policy, according to the OPS report.

The OPS also took issue with the officer having initiated the encounter: There had not been any public calls to the police for assistance, nor had the family appeared to ask for the officer’s assistance. Department policy also noted the correct authority to handle animal control-related calls was the Lorain County Dog Warden and that “due to the hazards of handling animals without proper training or equipment, responding officers generally should not attempt to capture or pick up any animal.”

The officer could have considered several different responses — including waiting in his cruiser and monitoring the situation, intervening if the dogs attacked the family or a passerby, or calling the dog warden.

“In this case, non-engagement may have been the more appropriate course of action,” the report said. “In OPS’s view, Officer — put himself in this situation unnecessarily.”

The OPS’s recommendations for the Employee Review Board included a pre-disciplinary conference — which can result in suspension, demotion, or discharge — as well as additional firearms training.

Recommended Department-Wide Changes

The report encouraged the Lorain Police Department to officially discourage police officers from becoming involved with dogs, especially without approval from an on-duty officer in charge, and to instead refer cases to the Lorain County Dog Warden or the Lorain County humane officers. 

The report also noted the county dog warden’s office, with two humane officers, likely may not have responded in a timely manner, if at all, had the officer called on the fatal Sunday of Dixie’s death. Given the limited county resources, the OPS recommended that the police chief should work with the Lorain city administrator to establish a humane or animal control officer position to help with animal-related issues within city limits to fill the gap in services, according to the report.

Owners Facing Charges for Irresponsible Pet Care

 The OPS report noted that the police encounter and fatality would not have happened had Dixie and the other dogs not been loose, unleashed, and not wearing collars that could have helped the family restrain the dogs.

The report also noted that Dixie’s owners had pleaded “No contest” to a child endangerment charge in 2009 after authorities found more than 10 dogs, multiple cats and birds, and two pre-teen children inside an unsanitary home with accumulated feces. Records obtained by OPS also indicated that the family had been the subject of numerous complaints and citations for health code violations that, as of June 2023, remained pending.

The OPS recommended that the Lorain County Prosecutor pursue charges for dogs running at large as well as excessive pet ownership, with county codes allowing five animals per household and records showing eight actively licensed dogs at the property as of 2023.

Meanwhile, the family has stated an intent to sue the police department, is asking prosecutors to pursue felony animal cruelty charges under Goddard’s law, and told news they remain heartbroken by Dixie’s death.

“I just want justice for my dog,” one of the owners told Fox 8 news. “I’m sad, I’m upset, I’m just devastated. My dog is gone. You can’t replace her, ever.”

A Responsible Pet Guardianship Reminder

We thank the more than 36,900 people who signed our petition, urging the immediate firing of the officer as well as a thorough review of department-wide policies as they relate to animals.

In light of the new information released in the investigative report, Lady Freethinker’s view on this tragic case remains that this situation did not warrant fatal force and that Dixie should still be alive today.  There must be accountability: The officer involved must face disciplinary action and the police department must review its policies and, as the OPS suggested, leave animal control-related calls to those with the necessary training and authority. 

For dog-lovers everywhere, the atrocity committed against this beloved companion animal holds a stark reminder about the importance of responsible pet guardianship.

The OPS report noted the city’s responsibility to protect the public from the possible threat of an “at-large” dog, and because Dixie was unleashed, loose, and not wearing a collar, the OPS said the courts would give more weight to her being a “public nuisance” than someone’s beloved companion animal.

This is not a justification to have killed this sweet dog. But to prevent any more senseless tragedies like this one, we urge our readers to always keep their dogs leashed when out in public and to make sure that their companion animals are wearing visible identification to show they “belong” to someone.  

For more tips on how to ensure that your sweet dog is not mistakenly labeled — and harmed or even killed — as a “dangerous” dog, please see our resources here and here

We’ll keep watching Dixie’s case.