St. Petersburg police and a first-hand witness have different accounts of how and why officers shot and killed a dog named "Taz." They agree the German Shepherd-mix belonged to 21-year old Kenneth McNeil, who was being arrested for violating a trespass warning in Williams Park.
They also agree the dog was on a leash.
"When [the officers] grabbed a hold of [McNeil], he started to pull away and resist from them," said police spokesman Michael Puetz. "And at some point the dog that he had on a leash, he released, the dog turned around and came back and started snapping at the one officer who gave several orders for the man to take control of the dog. He refused to do so and eventually the officer discharged his weapon, resulting in the death of the dog."
Anthony Catron was with McNeil at the time, and gave FOX 13 News a different account. He said McNeil dropped the leash as officers wrestled the trespasser to the ground.
"That's when the dog was let go," Catron claimed. "That's when at that time, I grabbed the leash, and the next thing you know, the gun was aimed, shot three times at the abdominal area of the dog. It just freaked me out."
As for the animal's demeanor?
"The dog never gave an act of aggression. Never did, not once at all," Catron said.
Catron also claimed he turned his cell phone's video camera on as police approached, recorded the entire confrontation, and later gave the phone to another police officer.
Puetz said Catron told an internal affairs investigator he did not have a cell phone number and did not mention giving his phone to another officer.
However, he did convey the same sequence of events to the detective Thursday night, after the shooting.
The incident increases tensions between the police and the homeless population that hangs out in Williams Park.
"Everybody knows [Taz] and loves him, he's part of the community out here," Cruz Borges explained. "Everybody's mad. There's going to be a memorial later for the dog as a matter of fact."
Roger Hubbard, who claimed he is referred to as the "Mayor of Williams Park," said "He was a good dog. They didn't have to shoot him, they didn't have to kill him", adding "They some nasty police in St. Pete, real nasty."
Puetz said the officers still think Taz was turned against them "as an intentional act."
For now, McNeil is charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence, but that might be upgraded to felony resisting with violence.
"I think there is some discussion at this point as to whether or not they may look at a further charge of perhaps aggravated assault where the dog is actually being utilized as a weapon," Puetz said, although that decision will be made by prosecutors.
McNeil was also charged with violating a trespass warning and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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