It was a week ago on Thursday night when an Elysian Valley man named Alex was returning home with his two dogs – Thunder, a large and rambunctious black Labrador, and Sam, a miniature Golden Retriever –after finishing a late evening walk along the Los Angeles River path. At the same time another dog owner walked his large pit bull across the intersection of Blake Avenue and Dallas Street. That’s when Thunder and Sam, both of whom were unleashed, ran off and around the corner in the direction of the man and his pit bull. Alex could not see what happened next but he certainly heard it.
“I just heard to two or three barks and then a gunshot.”
The man who fired the gun turned out to be an off-duty LAPD officer. Police later said the off-duty officer had fired his gun after being confronted by a vicious dog, which turned out to be Thunder. Police said the bullet had missed the dog. But on Friday morning, Thunder, who had appeared dazed but unharmed immediately after the shooting, was dead in the Alex’s yard. Later, Alex found signs of a bullet wound on the back of the dog behind its shoulder blades
A week after the incident, Alex and his family are grieving over the loss of Thunder and challenging the off-duty officer’s account of the shooting. They claim the pit bull owner, who did not identify himself as an off-duty officer at the time of the shooting, was too hasty in pulling out his gun and firing. “Thunder is a large, black Lab who likes to run up to dogs and bark,” said Alex. “He might have appeared vicious but there was not enough time to really determine if this was a vicious dog or not. He just shot him.”
Alex, a 36-year old father who works in the vending machine business, conceded that the approximately 18-month old, 90-pound dog could be intimidating. He would run up to other dogs and sniff them and bark. But he would not fight or bite. “He was big, giant puppy,” said Alex. “He was not vicious.”
After moving his family into their new Elysian Valley home a few months ago, Alex, who did not want his last name published, decided he wanted a dog for himself and kids. It would serve as security, too. That’s how Alex ended up adopting Thunder three months ago from a family in Lancaster that did not have enough time for the dog. “We always wanted a dog,” said Alex. “Everyone fell in love with him. He was beautiful.” Even Alex’s mother would bring over chicken as a treat for Thunder.
Soon after adopting Thunder, Alex and family ended up with another dog, Sam. The two dogs were buddies, but Alex found it hard to handle both dogs on leashes during walks. So, he started walking them in the late evening unleashed along the river.
Last Thursday, Sept. 27, Alex took Thunder and Sam, as was their routine, for for a late evening walk along the river. It would be Thunder’s last visit to the river. After Alex and the dogs left the river path and walked up Dallas Street, the unleashed dogs caught sight of the off-duty officer and pit bull in the distance and ran off. After the sound of a gunshot, Thunder and Sam ran back to Alex. Thunder seemed dazed but Alex said he did not feel or see any blood or wound on the dog’s body.
Alex then went around the corner and approached the pit bull’s owner. The man, who did not say anything about being an off-duty officer or firing a gun, said “bad dog,” referring to his animal. He soon walked off and then broke into a run down the street, Alex said.
After discovering that Thunder had died during the night, Alex loaded the dog’s body into the trunk of his vehicle and drove to the city-run North Central Animal Shelter in Lincoln Heights on Friday. There, in front of an animal control officer, Alex said he turned over his dog’s body and saw what looked like a bullet wound. He was asked if he wanted a necropsy conducted. But, at $1,000, Alex said he could not afford it. He was told to come back if he found out who shot Thunder in order to begin an animal cruelty investigation. He left Thunder’s body at the shelter.
In the meantime, Alex’s mother saw the story in The Eastsider about an off-duty officer shooting at a “vicious dog” in Elysian Valley. On Saturday, Alex met with Northeast Division police about the incident and returned to the North Central Animal Shelter. But Thunder’s body had already been removed. Brenda Barnette, General Manager of the city’s Animal Services Department, said officers at the shelter “didn’t see anything unusual with the dog, so it was placed in the freezer and was picked up by sanitation the following day.” The dog was “never examined and we have no way of verifying the cause of death.”
Alex, however, has provided photos he took that show a wound on the body of a large black dog. He has met with LAPD investigators who are looking into the incident as is procedure in an officer-involved shooting. He also informed investigators that a man sitting in a truck on Blake Street would have likely seen what happened the night Thunder was shot.
Lt. Stacey Spell with the Northeast Divsion said no further information was available as the use-of-force investigation is underway.
Since last week, Alex’s mother has set up a Facebook page about the shooting and has written a letter to Police Chief Charlie Beck urging the department to train officers to distinguish between a vicious and frightened dog and to use only non-lethal force against the animals.
Alex said that he does not want the officer to lose his job over the shooting.
“I just want the truth to be told,” said Alex during an interview at his home. “I want that officer just to know that he killed somebody’s family member and to be more careful.”