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Judge dismisses lawsuit against investigator who shot family dog

File photo of Augusta County Sheriff's Office patrol cars - cropped, modified, derivative image...
File photo of Augusta County Sheriff's Office patrol cars - cropped, modified, derivative image of original shared to WHSV by K. Kisamore(WHSV)
Published: Sep. 20, 2018 at 4:18 PM EDT
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UPDATE (Sep. 20, 2018):

Nearly one year after a

, a civil suit filed against him by Nexus Services has been dismissed by a judge.

On Sunday, September 24, 2017, Investigator Michael Roane responded to a home along West View Lane in Greenville and shot and killed a large family dog within a matter of seconds.

The dog, Jax, was leashed to a trolley system in the yard with 25 feet of lead, and Tina Ray, the dog's owner, argued Jax could not have reached Roane by the time he fired his service weapon, meaning the dog was not a threat.

Roane, however, asserted that he shot Jax in self-defense, describing his thoughts in that moment with the following quote in an interview with the Sheriff's Office:

"First, I was scared that the dog was attacking me and trying to bite me. Second, I thought that as I was running backwards, if I fell, the dog would bite my face or neck," Roane said. "I'm thinking I'm getting ready to fall. And if I do, he is gonna, he's gonna be on my neck. He's gonna rip my throat out. He's gonna be on my face."

When Roane arrived to the home after being called by other deputies who believed they smelled marijuana, he pulled into Ray's yard, rather than the street where other deputies had parked, stepped out near one of the trees attached to Jax's trolley system, Jax ran toward him in an apparently aggressive manner (described as "alarmed" by Ray), Roane backed up, Jax closed the distance, and then Roane drew his sidearm and fired one shot, killing the dog.

Ray argued the dog could not have gotten any closer to Roane once he stopped backing up, but Roane said he was acting out of fear for his own life.

A little over a month after the incident, and after it garnered media attention, the Sheriff's Office released the results of an internal investigation in which they concluded no charges would be filed against Roane.

Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin handled the case and issued

detailing the investigation's findings about what happened. You can find details about that below, in our previous update.

Following the decision against criminal charges, Nexus Services filed at least four lawsuits naming Roane as a defendant, including Ray v. Roane, in which they argued Ray's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

Around the same time, Nexus also launched a Change.org petition to ask Sheriff Donald Smith to fire Roane, and the court took the fact that Nexus had "publicly expressed animosity toward Roane" into consideration as they deliberated.

Ultimately, United States District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon concluded that "Roane’s actions were reasonable and that Roane is entitled to qualified immunity=," leading her to grant his motion to dismiss the case against him.

The court relied on precedent from several previous court cases involving law enforcement officers shooting dogs and found that " an objectively reasonable officer would have felt threatened in the circumstances immediately preceding the shot and, having to make a split-second decision, might not have been sure that Jax no longer posed a threat."

Part of that decision was the confirmed fact that Jax was within one step of Roane when he fired, which was corroborated by Ray's account as well, though she argued that he was fully aware that Jax could not go farther and posed no threat.

With no allegation that Jax was calm or retreating, and considering his size and the possibility of a leash breaking, Judge Dillon found that "it was not unreasonable for Roane to shoot a 150-pound, 'alarmed' and barking dog that had advanced on him, closing to within feet, all in a “short moment.” Especially taking into account the strong interest in officer safety and Roane’s need to make a quick decision in a tense situation, the court concludes that his actions were objectively reasonable."

However, Roane also sought sanctions against Fay, claiming she knowingly included false statements in her complaint against him despite an audio recording of her on the day of the incident in which she contradicted claims in the lawsuit.

Ray argued that she followed the court's directions and that her statements in audio recordings were given under duress and threat of arrest, as well as a threat to search her house. The court could not confirm those claims, but found that inconsistencies between the lawsuit and previous statements did not merit sanctions.

Roane also sought sanctions based on some of the language in the Nexus lawsuit (like describing Roane’s driving approach “like a bat out of hell, screeching to a halt” or using the phrase "blowing his brains out execution style." Judge Dillon warned the attorney that that sort of language would not be tolerated in court, but did not find it to merit sanctions either.

The case will be stricken from the docket of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia immediately.

You can find the full opinion by Judge Dillon, with a recounting of exactly what the court found in the case,

________

ORIGINAL STORY (Oct. 30):

No criminal charges will be filed against an Augusta County investigator who shot and killed a dog on a leash last month.

According to Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin, a thorough review of the case, including recorded statements from witnesses, as well as interviews with the dog's owner and the investigator, found that Investigator Roane acted out of self-defense.

The investigation was conducted internally by the Augusta County Sheriff's Office, and the full report is in the hands of the office of the Commonwealth's Attorney. He independently reviewed the investigation and agreed with the conclusion of the Sheriff's Office. You can find the press release on the report

.

For charges to be filed, the investigation would have to conclude that Roane shot the dog out of any purpose other than self-defense.

But, according to Martin, Roane believed he was in imminent danger of bodily harm when the German Shepherd, which belonged to Tina Ray, ran toward him as soon as he got out of his vehicle.

According to all accounts from the scene, it was within a matter of seconds that he pulled into a grassy area near the house, stepped out, the dog ran toward him in an apparently aggressive manner while on a leash attached to a trolley system, he backed up, the dog closed the distance, and then he drew his sidearm and fired one shot, killing the dog.

A witness of the scene and the deputies present confirmed that they saw the dog "going after" Roane, although it had not attacked or approached any of the other deputies on scene.

One of the deputies added that someone nearby had told deputies "sometimes he'll bite" when asked if the dog was friendly.

Investigator Roane was coming to the house after deputies serving a warrant for Tina Ray's arrest saw what they believed to be evidence of drug use.

According to Martin, Roane repeatedly apologized to the both Tina Ray and her estranged husband Mark after the incident, explaining that it was the first time he had discharged his weapon in 19 years as a law enforcement officer. He claimed he was "scared to death" when he saw the dog coming at him.

Mark Ray expressed understanding, saying "I woulda did the same thing. I mean I don't like other people's big dogs."

In response to apologies from Roane, as well as Sheriff Donald Smith, Tina Ray expressed frustration that the investigator parked on the grass instead of a driveway, where the incident could have potentially been avoided. She said she has "seen [the sorrow] in his eyes" when the investigator apologized to her and acknowledged that she thought the dog "could snap that lead and actually get off it if he wants off it at any time."

"I think you should have to wait until they ... draw blood," she said about Roane acting in self-defense.

However, by the end of her recorded call with the sheriff, Ray said "officers did not come down here to kill my dog. No they did not, you know?"

She also acknowledged a history of drug use to the sheriff.

In an interview with Roane, he said he parked in the grass because he typically interviews suspects on scene in his law enforcement vehicle for safety, so he pulled around the three other police vehicles on scene to park. Before getting out of the truck, he saw the dog, and believed it to be on a leash.

However, he claims to have thought the leash was tied to a tree.

When he stepped out and the dog ran at him, he explained his thoughts in those few seconds as the following.

"First, I was scared that the dog was attacking me and trying to bite me. Second, I thought that as I was running backwards, if I fell, the dog would bite my face or neck," Roane said. "I'm thinking I'm getting ready to fall. And if I do, he is gonna, he's gonna be on my neck. He's gonna rip my throat out. He's gonna be on my face."

In that moment, he says he thought the dog had broken free from the lead, and, in fear for his life, he drew his gun and fired, striking the dog about 29 feet behind the truck he had just gotten out of.

After shooting the dog, he examined it and the lead attached to the dog, finding about 15 feet of slack left in the trolley system to which the lead was attached. He states he did not see the trolley system when he arrived.

Based on those accounts of the case, Martin says no charges will be placed against Investigator Roane.

Following the investigation's results, Roane was taken off administrative leave and reinstated to full duty with the Augusta County Sheriff's Office.

The Facebook post which prompted community-wide discussion about this situation can be found below. WARNING: Some may find some of the language used in the post to be offensive.

Today was one of the hardest day I've had in a long time this morning at 11 am the Augusta county sheriff's office came...

Posted by Adam Hicks on Sunday, September 24, 2017