Body cam footage provided by Lebanon city police does “not justify the officers’ actions” in killing a family’s dog last summer, an attorney told LebTown last week.

“We watched the body cam footage and it did not justify the officers’ actions, in my opinion,” attorney Kristina Bergsten told LebTown in an email Tuesday.

In related news, Lebanon city Mayor Sherry Capello confirmed that a criminal investigation is underway in the dog’s death – but said it’s the dog’s owners, and not the police who killed Gunner, who might be charged.

Gunner was shot and killed on July 6. The dog’s owner, Jacklyn Shughart, told LebTown that someone opened the gate to her property, allowing Gunner and her other dog, a German shepherd mix named Rider, to escape from the yard. Her family recovered Rider quickly but they were unable to locate Gunner, a German shepherd with some Labrador retriever and husky blood, who they had adopted in 2021 from the Davis Dog Farm in Grantville.

When Gunner wandered into another yard, the resident called police to capture the stray dog and, she hoped, reunite him with his family. Instead, three police officers cornered the dog, deployed a Taser and snared the dog with a catch pole.

Gunner was on the ground and wagging his tail, a video of the incident appears to show, when one of the officers drew his sidearm and fatally shot the dog in the head.

Two days later, Police Chief Todd H. Breiner issued a statement saying the dog was killed “as a last resort … to protect officers and the public from endangerment.”

Capello later said at a public meeting that city officials “feel our officers handled it properly, given the circumstances,” adding: “A tail that is wagging is not necessarily a sign of a friendly dog.”

City officials initially refused public requests to release the body cam footage. Capello said in July that the footage showed that the shooting was necessary, but added that there were no plans to release the footage to the public.

In August, the city denied an open records request made by LebTown for the footage, citing as one reason an ongoing criminal investigation. An appeal for the footage is pending.

Video obtained by lawyer

Bergsten, operating on the Shughart family’s behalf, had also asked for the video evidence to be released, and she threatened litigation if it was not provided to her.

She is the founder of the Animal Law Firm, an office that specializes in cases dealing with animal welfare and animal rights. The firm was founded in Colorado, but now also serves clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey out of an office in Media.

On Tuesday, Bergsten told LebTown that the footage did not show cause for killing Gunner.

“So we sent a follow up demand letter to the city advising them of this,” she said. “I am hopeful to hear back from the city soon to resolve this case.”

Bergsten did not immediately respond to several follow-up questions, such as whether the city released the footage willingly or was ordered to do so by a judge. She also didn’t explain what actions her letter requested from the city, or what her next legal action against the city might be.

She previously told LebTown that she and the Shughart family “want the police to discipline the officers involved. They should retrain their officers, and come up with policies and procedures for this type of situation.”

Police training underway

Although the city has not announced any disciplinary action against the three officers involved in the shooting, Capello told City Council in August that they have begun the process “of working with a law enforcement-specific canine consultant to provide additional training, possible policy changes, and possible equipment to be used in addressing canine calls.”

However, after a City Council meeting on Monday, Capello and Breiner were asked to confirm if a criminal investigation was underway relating to Gunner. The mayor and police chief both answered “yes” — but when asked who was being investigated, they said it was the Shugarts, not the officers involved in the shooting, who were being scrutinized.

They said Gunner’s owners could be cited for not restraining the dog and for not having a license.

Reporter Chris Coyle contributed to this report.


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Tom Knapp

Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.