Court: Orange County deputy justified in dog-shooting incident

Two dogs belonging to a Winter Garden family were shot by an Orange County deputy who responded to a false burglary alarm in 2016. One died.
By: 
Sep. 4, 2018

A Winter Garden family recently lost a judgment in a civil case involving the shooting of two of its dogs, a Rottweiler named Bane and a black Labrador named Pepper.

According to court documents, the shooting occurred July 2, 2016, at the family’s home in Winter Garden. Orange County Deputy Gilad Levy responded to the home in reference to a burglary alarm.

The alarm was inadvertently set off by a relative who lived out of town and made prior arrangements to stay at the family’s home while in Winter Garden. 

The family member had arrived at the residence at a time when no one else was home and began tending to some plants in the backyard before she entered through an unlocked door to use the restroom.

Doing so triggered a burglary alarm, and after calling her sister — the owner of the home — to deactivate the alarm, the relative went outside again and let the family’s four dogs out of their kennels. 

However, the alarm-monitoring company placed a call to the family’s landline to ask for a second access code to check on the house. When no one answered, the company notified police.

According to court documents, when Levy arrived at the home he saw a vehicle parked at the end of the driveway and had a dispatcher call inside the home again. When no one answered, he walked up the driveway and reportedly failed to notice the lawn sign warning that there were dogs present.

After checking the door to a detached garage, Levy was making his way back to the entryway when he saw a black Labrador, Pepper, running toward him from the back of the house. Levy reportedly took a step back and pulled out his gun, yelling at Pepper to get back. Bane then came running from the back of the house as well.

“The court cannot operate with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. So, in assessing whether deputy Levy meets the reasonableness test here, the court resoundingly finds he does.”

“At the sight of Bane, Deputy Levy retreated further toward the detached garage’s wall,” the court documents read. “He trained his gun on Bane; both dogs approached him closer, and Deputy Levy kept moving back. In a matter of seconds, Deputy Levy was wedged between the garage and a black truck, and both dogs ran right up to him, between one and three feet away.”

Levy then fired two shots at the dogs, the first of which struck Bane in the snout. The second hit Pepper in the back as she turned away. Both dogs then ran away, and the family member emerged from the back of the house to investigate the noise, which she thought to be firecrackers.

When Lawrence Chastang, Bane’s owner, arrived at the residence, he immediately transported Bane to an emergency animal hospital. When Pepper was found hours later and taken to a hospital after having run away, the vet said she would make close to a full physical recovery.

“These are family pets; they shouldn’t be so callously treated like they’re some sort of wild animals."

However, Bane had labored breathing and was suffering intensely, Chastang said. He ultimately made the decision to euthanize Bane.

“I just couldn’t keep watching him suffer like that,” Chastang said. “It was too much.”

The Chastang family claimed the shooting constituted an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, Judge Rob Dalton determined Levy’s use of force was a reasonable reaction, given the circumstances, because the deputy first yelled at the dogs to get back and did not shoot until they got closer.

“Plaintiffs maintain that non-lethal force should have been used instead,” court documents state. “This argument does not carry the day. Although lethal force may not have been the best possible response, that is not the test— reasonableness is. … The court cannot operate with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. So, in assessing whether deputy Levy meets the reasonableness test here, the court resoundingly finds he does.” 

Although the judge ruled Levy acted reasonably in self-defense to a perceived threat, the family disagrees.

“These are family pets; they shouldn’t be so callously treated like they’re some sort of wild animals,” Chastang said. “This was excessive force, and our intention was to bring to light how their system and use of force matrix supports their actions of killing family pets.”

His family, he said, is still in shock over how a call over a false burglary alarm led to the death of one of their family pets and a permanent injury to the other dog.

“With the number of people who contacted us and related to the situation, my family and I felt we were representing more than just ourselves,” he said. “And we knew that if we had asked for $20,000 or $30,000, with their budget, they would have just written the check, and it would have never affected any change in their policies. So our intention was to create such a financial burden to them, that they would have to revisit their policies.”