Family: Cops Killed Our Dog for No Reason

Jan. 10, 2003 -- A family that was mistakenly pulled over as robbery suspects have filed complaints against police in Cookeville, Tenn., after one officer shot and killed their dog.

The Smoak family, of Saluda, N.C., was traveling along Interstate 40 on their way home from a holiday vacation Jan. 1 when their car was pulled over by a Tennessee state trooper and officers in three Cookeville police cars.

Authorities received a 911 call about money flying out of the Smoaks' car on the highway and they thought they were chasing robbery suspects.

"I passed the Mount Juliet exit and a car passed me. It was kind of like a station wagon. It was dark green," said the driver who called 911.

"It was probably going about 110 miles an hour. And then not too far in front of me, there was money flying all over the interstate," the female caller continued.

Police released a video of the incident Wednesday. It shows that troopers ordered the family out of the car, and that James and Pamela Smoak and their 17-year-old son, Brandon, obeyed. Each came out with their hands up and were handcuffed.

As James Smoak kneeled with his hands behind his back, he warned police that he had a dog in the car.

"I have a dog in the car and I don't want it to jump out, sir," James Smoak said on the videotape.

Just then, the family's dog, a 1 ½-year-old pit bull named Patton, leaped out of the open car door.

The dog barked and rushed toward Cookeville police officer Eric Hall, who was holding a shotgun. The officer shot the animal once in the head.

"You killed my damn dog," James Smoak cried out. "I cannot believe it!"

False Alarm

Police found out later that James Smoak had left his wallet on the roof of the car by accident, and that was why the money was flying from the car.

The misinterpretation was the result of poor communications between two different dispatch centers, Cookeville police said.

In an interview with Cookeville's Herald-Citizen, Hall said he had no choice but to shoot the dog after it charged at him.

"I yelled at the dog to 'get back' but it attempted to circle me to attack, so I felt that I had no other option but to protect myself," he told the newspaper.

The Cookeville Police Department's internal investigation found that Hall did not use excessive force, but Pamela Smoak said Patton was not being aggressive when he exited their car during the incident. Hall has been placed on administrative duties.

"In no way did the dog indicate anything other than he came out with his whole body speaking, 'hello, what's going on?" Pamela Smoak said on ABCNEWS' Good Moning America.

She believes the officers who pulled her family over that night should not have a future in law enforcement.

"The officer who shot my dog clearly has no right carrying a weapon with him to make a decision when to use it or when not to use it," Pamela Smoak said. "I don't think he should have any assignments in the police station as well."

Brandon Smoak says he hasn't been able to stop thinking about the incident.

"I see it replayed in my mind a lot," the teen said. "And it just goes through my mind all day long, and sometimes in my dreams."