Dear City of Racine Alderpsersons,
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Eastern District of Wisconsin
SARA AND JOSEPH HARMON,
v. Case No.
THE CITY OF RACINE, SGT. RYAN
COMSTOCK, INV. CHAD STILLMAN,
INV. DONALD NUTTALL,
SGT. ROBERT THILLEMANN,
in their individual capacities,
I. NATURE OF ACTION
The Harmons bring this civil action under Title 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the City
of Racine in order to obtain damages and other appropriate relief for the seizure and
slaughtering of their dog, Sugar, in violation of rights secured to them by the Fourth
and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
- This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331 (federal question jurisdiction) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3) (42 U.S.C. § 1983 jurisdiction).
- The Eastern District of Wisconsin is the proper venue for this action because the Plaintiff's claims arose within the geographical boundaries of the Eastern District of Wisconsin within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
- The Plaintiffs, Sara and Joseph Harmon, are adult residents of the State of Wisconsin with the capacity to sue and be sued in this Court.
- The Defendant City of Racine is a Wisconsin unit of local government,
with a principal address of 730 Washington Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin, with the capacity to sue and be sued in this Court.
- Defendant Sgt. Ryan Comstock is an adult resident of the State of Wisconsin, with the capacity to sue and be sued. At all times pertinent, Sgt. Comstock was employed by the Racine Police Department and acting within his scope of employment and under the color of law.
- Defendant Inv. Chad Stillman is an adult resident of the State of Wisconsin, with the capacity to sue and be sued. At all times pertinent, Inv. Stillman was employed by the Racine Police Department and acting within his scope of employment and under the color of law.
- Defendant Inv. Donald Nuttall is an adult resident of the State of Wisconsin, with the capacity to sue and be sued. At all times pertinent, Inv. Nuttall was employed by the Racine Police Department and acting within his scope of employment and under the color of law.
- Defendant Sgt. Robert Thillemann is an adult resident of the State of Wisconsin, with the capacity to sue and be sued. At all times pertinent, Sgt. Thillemann was employed by the Racine Police Department and acting within his scope of employment and under the color of law.
IV. ALLEGATIONS OF FACT AS TO ALL CAUSES OF ACTION
- On or about November 30, 2016, Investigator Chad Stillman held a briefing regarding a search warrant to be executed at the Harmons’ residence.
- Inv. Stillman informed the officers present at briefing that there might be a large dog present in the Harmon’s home.
- Inv. Donald Nuttall was assigned to the Team Leader position.
- Sgt. Ryan Comstock was assigned to be the point person – or the first officer to lead the team into the home.
- The Harmon family did in fact own a 60-pound pet dog named Sugar.
- Sugar was a friendly, two-year-old, fully vaccinated American Bulldog in
- At approximately 5 a.m. on November 30th, Racine Police Officers executed the search warrant.
- On information and belief, the officers chose the hour of 5 a.m. because they believed that Mr. and Mrs. Harmon were likely to be at work at that time.
- Sgt. Ryan Comstock was the first officer to enter the Harmon’s home.
- Among all of the tools and less lethal options available to police officers, Sgt. Comstock was armed with a department issued M4 assault rifle.
- The M4 assault rifle is a modern version of the M16 military assault rifle. The M4 assault rifle is an extremely accurate and lethal weapon.
- Sgt. Robert Thillemann entered right behind Sgt. Comstock.
- At the time Sgt. Comstock entered, Sugar was resting on the couch.
- Upon entry, Sgt. Comstock observed Sugar jump off the couch and run away, down the hallway to the left.
- Sgt. Comstock followed the same path Sugar had taken, and observed that Sugar had run into the bedroom at the end of the hallway.
- Sgt. Comstock did not simply shut the door to contain Sugar in the
- Sgt. Comstock chose to use his department issued M4 assault rifle to fire three shots at Sugar.
- Sgt. Comstock fired those three shots while Sugar was facing away from
- Sugar never growled or barked or acted aggressively in any way.
- Wounded and bleeding, Sugar then jumped onto bed.
- On information and belief, in pain and in fear, Sugar wet the bed.
- Sgt. Comstock shot Sugar a fourth time, while she was wounded and bleeding on the bed.
- Finally, after Sugar suffered for a period of time, Sgt. Comstock fired a fifth bullet directly into Sugar’s head to ensure her speedy death.
- Two minor children were present in the home at this time, but luckily, neither was physically injured by the bullets fired.
- At least one bullet did pass through a wall and into the adjacent room.
- On information and belief, the officers found no evidence of illegal activity during their search of the Harmon’s home, and the search led to no citations or arrests.
- Upon Mr. Harmon returning home, Inv. Stillman informed Mr. Harmon that Sugar was shot pursuant to Department “protocol.”
- On information and belief, between 2014-2015, the two years leading up to the 2016 shooting complained of herein, the Racine Police Department executed eight warrants at premises where a dog was present, and shot those dogs during the execution of six of those warrants – or approximately 75% of all dogs encountered during planned search warrant executions, in violation of citizens’ rights.
- On information and belief, all the dogs that were shot were shot to death.
- On information and belief, the City knew that the majority of dogs encountered during warrants were being killed in violation of citizens’ rights, and the City was deliberately indifferent.
- On information and belief, other friendly, non-threatening dogs that Racine PD came into contact with in circumstances other than planned warrant executions were shot to death, in violation of citizens’ rights.
- On information and belief, the City knew of these other friendly, non-threatening dogs being killed by the Racine Police Department in violation of citizens’ rights, and was deliberately indifferent.
- On information and belief, these officers who killed friendly, non-threatening dogs were not disciplined or retrained.
- On information and belief, it was quite foreseeable that Racine Police Officers would come into contact with dogs, yet the City:
- failed to provide constitutionally adequate training in light of these foreseeable circumstances, and the foreseeable consequences of a lack of training, which were that the police officers would often shoot the dogs they encountered, and
- failed to act in response to repeated constitutional violations by its officers.
- The Plaintiffs currently own a pet dog and reasonably fear that their rights and the rights of all Racine citizens who own pet dogs will be continued to be violated until the Racine Police Department employees stop routinely shooting pet dogs when their duties take them into people’s homes.
V. VIOLATIONS OF LAW
- Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments
- Defendant Comstock used excessive force and conducted an unreasonable seizure when he shot the Harmon’s dog, in violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable seizures and excessive force.
- Defendants Comstock, Thillemann, Nuttall, and Stillman acted unreasonably because any danger Defendants felt they faced was created by their own unreasonable conduct in failing to have a plan to address the dog whose presence was known prior to the execution of the warrant.
- Defendants Thillemann, Nuttall, and Stillman intentionally failed to intervene during the unreasonable use of force and seizure, wrongly depriving the Harmons of their right to be free from unreasonable seizures guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
- Municipal Liability
- Defendant City of Racine is liable to defend this action against the Defendants, and to satisfy any judgment entered against them, by virtue of Wis. Stat. § 895.46.
- Defendant City of Racine is liable under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), because it had a widespread practice and policy of unreasonably killing pet dogs in violation of the rights of its citizens.
- Defendant City of Racine is liable under Monell because it had an official policy and protocol to shoot and kill pet dogs in violation of the rights of its citizens.
- Defendant City of Racine is liable under Monell because it necessarily had knowledge or notice that illegal dog killings were occurring at the hands of its police officers and was deliberately indifferent to the obvious need for
retraining of its officers, which led to the deprivation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
VI. DAMAGES and EQUITY
- By virtue of unlawful actions alleged above, the Harmons have endured pain, suffering, emotional distress, financial losses, and other damages for which she should be compensated in an amount deemed just by the Court.
- Because the acts of the individual Defendants herein alleged were carried out maliciously or with reckless disregard for the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights, the Plaintiffs seek awards of punitive damages against the individual Defendants to deter them and others similarly situated from similar wrongful acts in the future.
- Because it is so obvious that friendly pet dogs will continue to die unconstitutional deaths at the hands of the Racine Police Department unless the City of Racine changes its official policy, practice, protocol, and training regarding the dogs police encounter, for which Plaintiffs have no plain, adequate, or speedy
remedy at law, therefore invokes the Court’s equitable jurisdiction to award declaratory or injunctive relief against the City of Racine.
VII. CONDITIONS PRECEDENT
- All conditions precedent to this action, within the meaning of Rule 9(c), Fed. R. Civ. Pro., have been performed or have otherwise occurred.
VIII. DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL
- The Plaintiff hereby demands a trial by jury of all issues triable of right to
IX. PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray that the Court grant judgment against the
- Monetary damages in an amount that will fairly compensate the Plaintiffs for their injuries;
- Punitive damages in amounts that will justly punish the individual Defendants for their actions;
- A permanent injunction enjoining the Defendant City of Racine and its personnel from continuing to carry out the unconstitutional practice and protocol of shooting pet dogs on sight as a matter of course when carrying out the execution of a search warrant or other high level
tactical operation, and requiring the City to provide training to its officers
on non-lethal options for detaining a pet dog when necessary to complete
an operation, or equivalent declaratory relief;
- Costs, attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses as well as any further relief this Court deems just.
Dated this Thursday, February 08, 2018.
Sara and Joseph Harmon,
THE JEFF SCOTT OLSON LAW FIRM, S.C.
JEFF SCOTT OLSON
State Bar No. 1016284
ANDREA J. FARRELL
State Bar No. 1064773
131 W. Wilson St., Suite 1200
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 283-6001
Facsimile: (608) 283-0945
/s/Andrea J. Farrell
ANDREA J. FARRELL
ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF
You are now facing 2 new lawsuits alleging Police Brutality.
The Complaints are attached for your perusal.
Do the Racine Police Have the Authority to kill a Minority?
Why is JUSTICE absent - for People of Color in City of Racine?
When will the Mayor re-assert control over a Police Force gone rogue?
Tim & Cindy
Dear City of Racine Alderpsersons,
Dear Reader: I have spent the better part of a day trying to load the Shannon complaint. It won't post. Sorry.
Open Attachment: Shannon Complaint.pdf