A Utah man whose dog was killed by a police officer last year found out this week that if he wishes to pursue civil litigation, he will be facing an uphill battle.
Sean Kendall’s dog Geist was shot by a Salt Lake City police officer, but a law passed in 2008 designed to protect cops from frivolous lawsuits, will require him to post a bond to cover attorney fees and court costs for the officer.
“It severely undermines the rule of law while letting abusive law-enforcement officers off the hook for their violations of the state constitution and other state legal protections,” Kendall’s attorney, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said.
Anderson says Kendall does not have the money required for a bond in the case, which could drag on for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those fees would be reimbursed in the event of his victory however.
During a June 18, 2014 search for a missing 3-year-old boy, Officer Brett Olsen entered Kendall’s fenced in backyard in Sugar House without a warrant and shot the 2-year-old Weimaraner after it reacted to his presence “in an aggressive manner.”
The child was found 30 minutes later sleeping at his home.
“Other than the fact that the officer was on my property uninvited, [Geist] was doing nothing but what a dog should do, Kendall said. “You buy a dog to help protect your property, and that’s exactly what he was doing.”
The killing sparked public outcry and demonstrations before Kendall turned down a $10,000 settlement offer from Salt Lake City.
“It would be like, ‘For $10,000 you can break into my backyard and kill my dog,'” Kendall said. “That’s not right.”
Supporters of the law, say the legislation was only a technical revision to a 1953 law that didn’t change its substance, but Anderson argues the old law allowed the court discretion in setting bond, depending on a plaintiff’s financial situation.
Under the new law, Anderson said, the court must estimate costs and fees and set the bond accordingly, no matter what.
The newer law “exacerbates what was already a very unjust, discriminatory situation,” Anderson said, “and creates enormous obstacles for people to obtain access to the courts to achieve justice.”
Anderson rejects the notion the law protects police from frivolous lawsuits, pointing to another Utah law that awards attorney fees and court costs in any case that is deemed frivolous.