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10/25/13 — Owner says police shot her dog unnecessarily

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Owner says police shot her dog unnecessarily

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 25, 2013 1:46 PM

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News-Argus/CASEY MOZINGO

Kenya Wall chokes up when she talks about the loss of her 7-year-old pitbull, Rika. The dog was shot four times by a Goldsboro police officer Tuesday evening and questions surrounding the incident remain, as witnesses dispute the accounts given by lawmen.

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News-Argus file photo

Rika, pictured with Matt Cox, was a regular fixture at the city's farmer's market, where patrons used to feed her tomatoes, her favorite food. Rika was pictured in the August issue of GO! magazine in a story about organic farmers.

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News-Argus file photo

Kenya Wall's fiance, Matt Cox, plays with Rika, his other dog and his chicken in the garden he keeps at his home. Rika was known for, among other things, eating tomatoes right off the plants. She is buried with a tomato plant to mark her grave.

The "little old ladies" who used to hand feed Rika tomatoes at the local farmer's market will never get the pleasure of her companionship again.

The toddlers who used to laugh when the 7-year-old pitbull would whimper in their presence won't hear her silly sounds.

The woman who considered the "sweet girl" her "first daughter" wasn't left with joyful memories when her best friend died.

Instead, she relives the sight of a police officer standing over a wounded Rika -- firing three shots into her body.

More than two days after the pitbull was shot in the street outside the home of her owners, Kenya Wall and her fiancé, Matt Cox, only one part of the woman's account of what happened Tuesday night has not been challenged by the Goldsboro Police Department.

The dog, GPD officials confirmed, was, in fact, shot to death.

But Ms. Wall's eyewitness testimony of how it happened has been characterized, both by Police Chief Jeff Stewart and Maj. Mike West, as a fabrication.

*

As Ms. Wall recounts what she saw Tuesday evening, she pauses every few minutes to weep.

"I'm sorry, but that's my first daughter right there," she said at one point. "And I had to watch her die."

It was 7 p.m. and Ms. Wall and her fiancé were watching TV in bed when their other pitbull started barking.

Moments later, three shots rang out.

"I ducked toward the ground," Ms. Wall said. "It was so loud that it started ringing in my ears, so I knew it was close."

Cox, though, wasn't fazed by the sound of gunfire.

He ran to the window to see what was unfolding outside.

"He looks out the window and says, 'Oh my God. That's Rika,'" Ms. Wall said. "So he runs down the stairs to the front door and I run to the window. As I'm looking out, they shot her three more times. I'm watching them shoot her while she's on the ground."

The woman breaks down.

"I'm sorry," she says again. "That's my baby."

Moments later, she, too, was outside.

"I asked them, 'Why did you shoot her?' One of them said, 'Well, she charged at us aggressively.' I was like, 'No,'" Ms. Wall said. "Then, when we asked (the officer who fired the shots) what happened, he was like, 'She wasn't acting aggressive,' so I said, 'Then why did you shoot her?' That's when the police officers' chief or sergeant or whoever told them to leave because it was too emotional for them to handle talking to us."

Searching for answers, Ms. Wall took off down the street -- talking to anyone who witnessed what had unfolded in the minutes leading up to the shooting.

One bystander said that Rika slipped out of the gate that had been left open by a family member who had come to visit -- that she was running down the street near a man who was walking and, not too long after, turned around and headed back toward her home.

But as she neared the property, a Goldsboro patrol car pulled up.

"He said when she was cutting back toward our yard, the cops pulled up right in front of our house and called her back," Ms Wall said, making whistling and clicking sounds to demonstrate what she was told officers did to lure the dog into the street.

"Rika doesn't charge at anybody," she said. "Rika doesn't go unless you tell her to go."

Then, the witness said, the first few shots were fired.

Rika, now on the ground wounded, was shot three more times, Ms. Wall said.

"I had her seven years. She never bit anyone -- never hurt anyone. I could let her go all over the neighborhood and she would go sit with the little old ladies and come back. She would play with the kids and come back," she added. "But they killed her. I watched those shots. They shot her so many times. Why? One shot wouldn't be enough?

"Why even shoot? Turn on your sirens. Honk your horn. Do something other than shoot my dog four times."

After the final shots were fired -- and the officers involved left the scene -- Cox wrapped his arms around his fading dog.

"She opened her eyes, licked him twice on the face and then died in his arms," Ms. Wall said. "Our neighbors were outside crying. People from down the street came down crying. Because they know this dog never hurt anyone."

Rika was shot, her owner contends, for one reason: She is a pitbull.

*

Stewart and West -- both men said they had not talked to the officer who fired the shots or the one who witnessed it -- denied most of Ms. Wall's story late Thursday afternoon.

"There's more to it than what she's telling you," Stewart said. "That's all I'm sayin'."

Officers were dispatched to the area after 911 calls were made by two people who said they were being chased by Rika, he said.

"The officers were talking to them and I'm assuming they were going to talk to the owner when the dog charged them. One of the witnesses took off running at that time. For what it's worth, this is what I was told," Stewart said. "The officer discharges his weapon. I don't know how far away the dog was. But you would think that the dog was coming at the officer in a very vicious manner for him to discharge his weapon."

West agreed.

"The dog was shot because the officer was standing with two people who had been chased by that dog, who were scared of that dog, and the dog came around the house trying to go after the officer," he said.

Both men denied that the officers called the dog back toward them before the shots were fired.

"The officers did not call the dog off that property," West said.

But as to whether or not the officer opened fire on Rika after she lay wounded on the ground, neither could say.

"At this point, until I talk specifically to the officer, I can't answer that question," West said.

And when asked if there was ever a situation that would merit shooting a mid-sized dog four times -- once in the back of the neck, twice in the stomach and once above the ribcage -- both declined to answer.

"You're asking us to answer a hypothetical question," Stewart said. "We were not there."

Both would say, however, that if the story they have heard from other lawmen were true, they likely would have responded the same way.

"I'm gonna be honest with you. If a dog's charging me, I'm gonna shoot it until the threat stops," West said. "Now I'm not gonna walk over to it when it's on the sidewalk wounded and go ahead and pump two more holes in it, but I'm gonna shoot at the dog until I stop the threat coming at me."

Stewart added, "The officer has the right to protect himself."

*

In the days since the shooting, Ms. Wall has spoken with three different police officers whom she declined to name.

Each of them, she said, recited different versions of "what happened" that night.

One investigator even told her that incidents like the one she experienced were becoming all too common -- that "a lot of people were upset" about seemingly "trigger happy" officers.

Stewart, himself, called to offer his condolences.

When asked why, having not spoken to the officer who fired the shots and not knowing exactly what happened, he called the dog's owner to apologize, he said it was "because she was upset."

"I told her I would look into it," he said.

But the only thing they could offer her to ease the pain is an impossibility, Ms. Wall said.

"Bring my dog back -- which can't happen," she said.

The woman pauses again and chokes up.

More tears fall.

"When we buried her, we walked her to all the other dogs so they could tell her, 'Bye.'" she said. "As soon as we put her into the ground, they all just started barking. They knew what was going on.

"There will never be another dog like her."

She takes a moment to collect herself.

"Tomatoes were one of her favorite foods. She used to walk through our garden and just eat them off the bush," Ms. Wall said. "So we put a tomato plant on top of her grave. Now, she can eat all the tomatoes she could ever want."

*

As of Thursday, no incident report had been completed by the officers involved in the shooting.

And after Stewart and West were questioned about why the document did not exist -- the narrative on the report would give the officers' accounts of what happened -- they said one would be put together eventually.

Friday morning, it appeared.

Officer Edmund Gillette, the officer who shot Rika, said much of what Stewart and West offered as to what transpired that night -- although neither had spoken yet with Gillette when they did so.

The dog charged him, the report said.

Then, after shooting Rika -- the shots sent her to the ground -- the dog "got back up again," he continued.

And that is why he fired the additional shots.

Stewart, this morning, said he did hear that one of the officers whistled for the dog.

"But that was a block and a half away," he said.

And he said he believed Gillette's account of what happened.

"I have to believe him," he said. "If that's what he said happened, that's what happened."

Ms. Wall isn't moved by the department's denial of her eyewitness account -- one that has been corroborated by two people who were on Carolina Street when the shots were fired who asked to remain anonymous because they "don't want to be harassed" by police.

"I don't (care) what they deny," she said. "I saw him standing over my dog. I saw him shoot her three times when she was lying on the ground."

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