ALTON — Keeping with the national trend of pit bull breed controversy, an Alton family is at odds with the Alton Police Department regarding an officer’s response to an apartment complex that resulted in the family’s pit bull being fatally shot.
According to the department, officers responded to the apartment complex on the 2900 block of College Avenue at approximately 6:07 p.m. on July 3 for an incident not related to the dog or its owners. Once there, the officers encountered the dog, which was said to be barking and growling at the officers, according to Public Information Officer Emily Hejna. Officers requested that the dog be taken inside more than once, Hejna said.
The dog’s owner, Antoinette Skelton, said she attempted to take the dog into her apartment but the dog got loose as she grappled with it while also holding her four-year-old son.
When the dog ran at the officer he feared he would be attacked, Hejna said, prompting him to fire his weapon.
“We always try to work with the owners or responsible person, whoever is in charge of the dog, to restrain the dog properly so we don’t have to shoot it. But if it continues to be aggressive even after that and it’s clear that it cannot be restrained before somebody is bitten, officers are trained to fire their weapon to eliminate the threat to themselves, other officers, citizens, whomever,” Hejna said. “We have a responsibility to protect people. Yes, we also have a responsibility to protect animals, but our first priority (is) the human lives in our city. And that’s their welfare as well as their life.”
Skelton and the dog’s other owner, Devin Scott, believe their dog was a victim of profiling. It’s a discussion that has come into the public forum in recent years — nature versus nurture in regards to pit bulls and their interactions with humans and other animals.
Scott said his dog, which the family had named Baby Girl, wasn’t the kind of dog that gives pit bulls their bad name.
“I know for a fact — it’s not even assuming — that he definitely treated her as if she was just an alley dog, as just a pit bull that would just be running around in some neighborhood or something,” Scott asserted.
Skelton was also upset that the incident happened in front of her son, who suffers from autism. She said her son can’t sleep at night since the incident. She feels both of their lives were put in danger.
“My son was outside on my hip on the front porch, where any bullet could have ricocheted. It could have hit him, it could have hit me,” Skelton said.
Hejna said that while the incident was unfortunate, the officer did what he had to do given the situation.
“Had that person restrained their dog as the officers had requested multiple times prior to having to shoot it, we never would have been in this situation,” Hejna said. “She tried — she put it inside but it got out again as she was exiting the building, and so the officer had no choice at that point.”
The family also questioned the use of a firearm as opposed to less serious means of defusing the situation. Hejna said the pepper spray used by police to disarm individuals actually serves to make dogs angrier, and Tasers are designed for a human body, so the trajectory of the prongs would likely miss a dog.
In incidents like this, Hejna said an official report is written and reviewed by the officer’s supervisor. When a firearm is discharged, the chief of police also reviews the report. She said most officers are dog lovers and try their hardest to avoid situations such as this.
“Most of us down here love animals and want to protect animals, but we first and foremost have to protect people,” Hejna said.
Skelton’s mother, Shinnette Davis, said no amount of justification will ease the pain of losing the family’s pet for the past nine years.
“She was a good, good dog,” Davis said. “She was a part of our family. Everybody is just devastated.”
Nathan Grimm may be reached at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @GrimmTelegraph.