Gratiot Co. family seeks answers after cop shoots and kills golden retriever

A lack of answers is fueling outrage in a small Gratiot County community, where a police officer shot and killed a dog running loose over the weekend.

A makeshift sign on the Goetzingers' front yard in St. Louis reads, â??R.I.P. Scout. St. Louis PD murdered our golden retriever,â?? putting the cityâ??s police force in the hot seat, alleging one of its officers unnecessarily killed the family's dog, Scout.

Neighbors say they're not buying the officer's statement that he shot in self-defense.

"Scout didn't have any enemies,â?? said family friend Jen Lovejoy.

It happened Sunday, when Scout found his way out of the backyard unleashed, which is against city law.

Eyewitnesses say Officer Matt Vanhall pursued Scout, and eventually shot him just feet from the Goetzingers' home.

Lori Walmsley watched it unfold from across the street.

"It was as if the dog didn't go down fast enough. And he just kept shooting it over and over, until it finally tried to crawl back through its gate,â?? Walmsley described.

Owner Brian Goetzinger was inside watching football at the time, and ran out when he heard the shots.

"I kept saying, â??Why did you shoot my dog? Why did you shoot my dog?â?? And he said, â??He was coming at me,â??" Goetzinger said.

Officer Vanhall states in a police report, Scout ran at him, baring his teeth and tried to bite his leg. The police chief has told Goetzinger his officer was justified in firing his gun. But Walmsley observed otherwise.

"There was no biting, no kicking, no struggle,â?? Walmsley said.

News spreads quickly in this small community, and dozens of Goetzinger's neighbors are questioning the lethal force the officer used.

"The issue isn't that scout was loose,â?? Lovejoy said. â??The issue was that Scout was shot numerous times on his own property."

Goetzinger says Scout was never aggressive toward strangers, and finds it hard to believe his dog threatened the cop.

"He'll come up to them and bounce around, and he was a happy-go-lucky dog,â?? Goetzinger said.

The Gratiot County prosecutor is reviewing the incident and expects to finish sometime this week. Until then, it's the officer's word against witness statement.

â??Until [police] admit that they could make a mistake, that it's possible for one of their men to have an error in judgment, this town is never going to heal from this,â?? Walmsley said.

The St. Louis police department didn't return NBC25â??s messages for comment. City Manager Bob McConkie says he expects the prosecutorâ??s office and Michigan State Police are committed to completing a thorough investigation.

Michigan State police are also investigating.

Community members and the Goetzingers plan to hold a protest in St. Louis Wednesday morning. People are asked to meet at 401 W. State St. by 9 a.m.

Below is a statement released by the City of St. Louis on their Facebook page last night:

The City of Saint Louis, Saint Louis Police Department, and Officer Matt Van Hall wish to express their depest sympathy to the Goetzinger family for events that led to the death of their family pet this last weekend. The incident started as a dog running loose across Michigan Avenue in front of the patroll vehicle nearly getting hit.

Officer Van Hall was doing his duty to find the dog's owner to notify them they needed to secure and not let the dog run at large. Officer Van Hall after talking to several residents the last indicated that a dog matching the description was across the street. Officer Van Hall attempted to identify the dog as the dog which earlier ran across the street in front of his patrol car.

When Officer Van Hall corssed the street and approached the gate Scout came through the gate growling with teeth showing advancing toward Officer Van Hall.

The officer retreated backwards and Scout kept advancing toward the officer. The officer continued retreating backward as he drew his weapon and fired. Officers from the Alma Police Department were called to assist. The Alma officers took statements from residents nearby. Michigan State Police officers also assisted at the scene.

Statements from all officer's interviews with residents have been forwarded to the Gratiot County Prosecutor. No official statement has come from the Prosecutor's Office.

The City of Saint Louis cannot control what is broadcast by the news media. WNEM when first broadcast the story did not contact the Police Department. In other interviews conducted by WNEM they have taken sound bites that will best serve their interest to gain viewership. They are not interested in true investigative reporting. They are only interested in inciting people to action and the almighty dollar. For instance, according to the Police Chief in his interview he expressed our sympathy for the family's loss, but that statement was conveniently edited out and only the answer to the "Tough Question" aired.

No Police Officer or Police Chief deserves death threats like have been received over the past couple of days. We can all be Sunday morning quarterbacks after the fact and second guess what should have been done.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off