EL MONTE >> More than nine months after police walked passed “beware of dog” signs, entered an El Monte family’s front yard and then fatally shot the family’s pet German shepherd when it charged at one of the officers, El Monte police have announced an internal investigation found no wrongdoing or policy violations on the part of the involved officers.
Detective Arlen Castillo and then-officer Ken Fraser, who has since been promoted to the rank of sergeant, responded to the home in the 4700 block of Maxson Road in El Monte on the afternoon of June 19 to collect a photograph of the teenage son of Cathy Luu and Chi Nguyen, whom they had previously reported had run away from home. The boy came home a short time later.
Video footage of the incident captured by the family’s home surveillance system depicts Fraser casually open a gate and enter the family’s front yard, followed closely by Castillo. The officers stood in front of the family’s front door before the family’s pet pit bull approached Fraser, and he petted the dog.
The family’s 2-year-old German shepherd then emerged from the back yard of the home, began barking and charged toward Castillo, who was standing at the home’s front door. Castillo shot and wounded the dog.
“The full incident was investigated, including both officers’ actions, with no sustained policy violations found,” El Monte Police Chief Steven Schuster said in an email.
Both Castillo and Fraser remain on active duty, police officials added.
“The El Monte Police Department has strict policies in place that describe the procedures in place to protect residents’ pets,” Schuster said. “This was an unfortunate and isolated situation in which, upon responding to a call from the residents asking for police assistance, the officers felt that their safety was compromised due to the dog.”
In a written statement, police officials said the department remains “committed to continued development” of policies regarding encounters between officers and dogs.
The department has “already integrated these procedures into our officer training,” according to the statement. No specific examples were given.
Following the shooting, police officials said the officers noted the “beware of dog” signs, shook the fence and looked around for the presence of dogs before entering the family’s yard.
But the video tape depicts the officers arriving in their patrol car, then opening the gate and entering the yard without breaking stride.
Schuster acknowledged the “discrepancy” between the account provided by the officers and the video of the incident, but the department found no policy violation on the part of the officers.
“The initial statement included information that was known to the reporting officer at the time, which was prior to knowledge of video evidence,” the Chief said. “As we learned about the discrepancy, we corrected the statement to the media and public and asked for the original video file to assist in our investigation. We completed a full investigation on this matter, and determined there were no sustained violations.”
In addition to the death of their dog, family members also initially complained of the manner in which they were treated after their dog was shot.
Police immediately seemed to begin investigating the family, demanding to see license paperwork for the wounded animal and other dogs at the home before providing veterinary help, family members said at the time. The video shows the dog lying wounded for more than an hour before being picked up by animal control officials.
Police also initially promised to pay for the dog’s medical care, but rescinded the offer after learning of the $7,000 price tag for the medical procedures, Luu said. The dog was eventually euthanized.
“We have apologized to the family numerous times for the loss of their beloved pet and we have worked with the family to try to rectify the situation,” Schuster said.
El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said he empathized with the family and hoped police would use the incident, “as a learning experience.”
“It’s my understanding that they did review their policies and make sure going forward there’s additional training,” the mayor said. He added he was concerned about both the safety of residents’ pets, as well as the safety of police officers.
“I’m hoping, on a moving forward basis, that we’re going to be able to have no more incidents like this.”
Quintero said he was satisfied with the internal police investigation into the shooting.
“I believe they did review all the different aspects that they could,” he said.
Luu said she did not wish to comment on the findings Friday.
Mayor Quintero said he and then-acting city manager and current Assistant City Manager Jesus Gomez has met with the family and listened to their concerns.
“They were very kind, very gracious,” he said.
The family has not filed a claim against the city or the police department seeking damages.
Nonetheless, Quintero said, if the family was interested in getting a new dog, “I would do whatever I could to make sure that happened. I think everyone at city hall empathizes with the loss of a pet in those circumstances. Not a replacement, but a new pet to help them heal.”