Pahrump (KTNV) - A deadly shooting by a Nye County deputy takes the life of a family pet and sparks an internal investigation, as Contact 13 first reported Friday.
But in the course of our investigation, Contact 13 uncovered more disturbing details that even the cops didn't know about until Darcy Spears was on the case.
Cell phone video depicting rolling over, sitting on command and playing with a toy is how Gary Miller prefers to remember his dog, Blu.
But it's the footage from a Nye County Sheriff's deputy's body camera that will always haunt him.
On April 10, NCSO Deputy John Tolle, responding to what turned out to be false residential panic alarms at Gary's Pahrump home, killed Blu in the 12 seconds it took Gary to answer the door.
Blue begins barking from behind the house, then jogs around the corner to approach Tolle as he knocks on Miller's door.
Before he even sees the dog, Tolle says, "Oh! Don't be mean. Don't be vicious."
As Blu comes toward him, he says, in a low voice, "Oh, don't do it, doggy. Don't do it, doggy. Stop it. Stop it."
Then, he fires four shots at the dog from approximately 10 feet away.
"You don't go to lethal force from seeing an animal to shooting an animal," said Miller. "That's just totally unacceptable."
A detective was sent out to question the deputy's actions.
On the body cam, Det. Brainard asks Tolle, "Charge at you?"
Tolle responds, "Oh, yeah, he was like coming full on at me, growling and snarling and damn near trying to attack me."
That may have been Tolle's perception, but none of that actually happened. And the body cam video proves it.
After a series of Contact 13 stories on police killing pets, a state law was passed in 2015 requiring specialized training to help officers differentiate between aggressive and non-threatening dog behaviors and the use of nonlethal force like a taser, pepper spray, baton or even voice commands.
"He already didn't do a lot of the things that he should have done, which was to rattle the fence and yell to see if there was a dog," said Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals after watching the body cam footage. "And that dog was not aggressive! He was jogging up to the front. He was not in a beeline aggressive attacking stance. He does nothing to yell at the dog. Nothing to try to stop the dog. He doesn't pull out any other tool on his tool belt. We're not saying that deadly force can't be used. We're saying that deadly force should be a very last option. And in this case it was his very first option."
"What about the use of less than lethal force?" Darcy Spears asked Sheriff Sharon Wehrly.
She said he'd been through the state-mandated canine encounter training, "But it was only a six-hour block of training."
Computer-based training Sheriff Wehrly determined wasn't enough after she opened an internal affairs investigation.
Darcy Spears: Did he have less lethal options available to him right then and there?
Sheriff Wehrly: Yes. But he also had a situation inside that trailer that he had no idea what he was going to need and he would have had to transition from one thing to another, which would have left him in a less than safe position had there been something going on inside.
"He rapped on the door gently to try to get somebody to come to the door. And then he stood back. Well, the dog heard him. But he didn't want to give away his position so he didn't speak real loud to the dog. And I can understand that. It was hard for me to take initially."
"And he was there to provide safety and security and help to whoever was on the other end of that panic button. So, after it was all said and done, he has been remediated with 24 hours of hands-on training with bad dogs. So now he knows how to handle that situation."
Contact 13 learned the mishandling of Gary's dog didn't end when Blu died.
A few photos are just about all Gary has left of his pet--that and a container of ashes.
Garcy says the dog was cremated without his knowledge or permission.
He wasn't even given a chance to claim the body.
Nye County Animal Control says a shelter worker failed to put a hold tag on Blu's body so he was sent to cremation while the internal affairs investigation was still ongoing.
An animal control officer later delivered the container to Gary, but Contact 13 discovered the ashes are not his dog.
"The idea of presenting me with something that's not real is totally insulting," Gary said. "It's ridiculous. I have absolutely nothing to have to remember Blu at all."
Our discovery prompted the sheriff's office to open a new internal investigation and place an Animal Control officer on administrative leave.
But animal advocate Gina Greisen believes much more needs to be done.
"The entire reputation of all law enforcement rests in the bullets that just went into that dog. Is this what people want? Is this what people expect when they are calling for help? To have their four-legged family members murdered right in front of them? And then no remorse? You get treated like you're a criminal?"
When Deputy Tolle learns he'll have to fill out a use of force report, he laughs and says on the body cam video, "Maybe I'll get time off now!" After more laughter, he adds, "That's why I can't deal with dog lovers. It's like, it's a dog. It did it's job. It was protecting your house. I understand that, but it is what it is."
In addition to the required canine training, there's another state law that says dogs can't be deemed vicious based solely on their breed,
But on the body cam footage, Nye County Sheriff's Sergeant Deutsch says, "I'm out here on a panic alarm. Deputy Tolle beat me here and shot this dude's pit bull in the head.
The man on the other end of the police radio responds, "Nice!"
And Sgt Deutsch then says, "Yeah, he said the pit bull came running out from behind the corner yelling and screaming and growling and all that fun pit bull stuff they do."
Again, that is not what's depicted in the footage before Tolle shot Blu.
"No matter what they do," said Gary, "I can't bring Blu back. But I'm not settling for this. This man is totally irresponsible. He's a liability to the community and to the county."
The only consequence so far for Deputy Tolle has been additional training, which Sheriff Wehrly says the entire department will undergo to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
Darcy: Do you feel his actions were appropriate?
Sheriff Wehrly: You know, it's hard to second-guess somebody when you're not standing in their moccasins. It really is. And I've been asking myself that ever since I started. But on this particular investigation, what would I have done if I'd been in that position? I couldn't tell you. But then, I've been around dogs my whole life. He'd never been around dogs in his whole life.
Darcy: Was it too quick a reaction?
Sheriff: I can't say.
Darcy: Is it fair to say this should not have happened or could have been avoided?
Sheriff: You know, I don't think I'm going to take a stand on that because I wasn't in that guy's head. I think it was the totality of things that were going on at that particular moment and the outcome was less than what we wanted it to be.
Gary hired an attorney and plans to sue the deputy and the department for his dog's death.
We will be closely following that case and the ongoing investigation into where those ashes came from.
Monday morning, the Nye County Sheriff's office issued a new press release after a tremendous response to our first report.
The release, signed by Sheriff Sharon A. Wehrly, says:
"The Nye County Sheriff's Office is aware of concerns being expressed regarding the shooting of a pit bull in Pahrump, April 10, 2017 and allegations regarding the inappropriate handling of the dog's remains."
"Immediately upon viewing the Body Camera Footage, I started an internal affairs investigation into the actions that occurred that day. That investigation is continuing and I can assure you appropriate action will be taken by the Nye County Sheriff's Office upon the completion of the investigation."
"I am committed to ensuring all contacts with the public and their pets are appropriate and within the scope of training that the Deputies have received. I have been an animal owner my entire adult life and sympathize with Mr. Miller on the loss of his family pet. I do not take this loss lightly."
"This incident highlights exactly why I have been dedicated to ensuring that the Nye County Sheriff's Office has body cameras on all staff. Video of this incident demonstrates exactly how body-worn camera footage allows me, the Sheriff, to see exactly what took place and take appropriate action."
"Deputy Tolle was provided immediate remedial training prior to his return to patrol responsibilities to ensure his interactions with the public and their pets is appropriate while the investigation is being conducted."
"The Animal Control Officer that was responsible for the handling of the dog's remains is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation."
"I hold my employees to a high standard in the way they interact with the public and do not take the shooting or my staff's subsequent actions and conversation lightly. Upon the conclusion of the investigation I will be taking appropriate action against any individuals found to have acted in a manner not consistent with the standards they are expected to satisfy within the confines of the law."
"Upon the conclusion of the investigation I will release the results of that investigation and action that was taken."
"Thank you for your patience."
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