By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit against Hartford, Connecticut, and two police officers over the fatal shooting of a family dog, near a 12-year-old girl, after the officers entered a property without a warrant to search for guns.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said there was not enough evidence of an urgent need that would justify the Dec. 20, 2006, search of plaintiff Glen Harris' property, during which one of the officers shot and killed Seven, a 3-year-old St. Bernard.
Thursday's decision by a three-judge panel voided a May 2012 jury verdict, and returned the case to Hartford federal court for a possible retrial.
Police said the two officers, Johnmichael O'Hare and Anthony Pia, entered Harris' property based on a gang member's tip that two guns were stashed in a car in the backyard of Harris' home.
The officers said they retreated after encountering Seven, and O'Hare said the large dog growled and chased after him.
O'Hare fired three shots, killing Seven. Harris' 12-year-old daughter, who was nearby, claimed she saw O'Hare put the third bullet in Seven's head, and that he then told her, "Sorry Miss. Your dog isn't going to make it." No car or guns were found.
Harris sued Hartford and the officers in 2008, seeking damages for violating the protection against illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and inflicting emotional distress on his daughter.
In Thursday's decision, Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said the officers had probable cause to investigate the gun tip.
But she said there was no showing of "exigent circumstances" for the officers to enter Harris' property without a warrant, even to quickly remove suspected illegal guns from areas prone to crime.
"Taken to its logical end, this argument would permit exigent circumstances anytime there is a tip about illegal guns being located somewhere in a high-crime neighborhood or city, and would allow the exception to swallow the rule," Pooler wrote.
The judge also said O'Hare and Pia did not deserve immunity because it was not "objectively reasonable" to have believed the search was lawful.
Jon Schoenhorn, a lawyer for Harris and his daughter, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Thomas Gerarde, a lawyer for the officers, and a lawyer for Hartford did not immediately respond to similar requests.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)