RACINE — It was the morning of April 28, 2015. As Melissa Hernandez remembers that morning, she woke up, checked on her three sleeping elementary-aged children, went near her front door where one of her two dogs was sleeping on his dog bed. She gave the dog a kiss on the head and went into the bathroom to get ready for work.
The next thing she heard was a gunshot.
Hernandez said she and her other dog went to the front door to see what was happening. According to the complaint, Racine SWAT Detective Joe Villalobos had shot her first dog and then immediately shot the second dog.
Both dogs died.
That was more than five years ago. Last month, a $270,000 settlement was approved by the Racine City Council in response to two separate incidents where Racine Police killed dogs, including Hernandez’s case.
The settlement was discussed in closed session last month and approved without public discussion.
The Journal Times submitted a records request for a copy of the settlement regarding Hernandez’s case and the case of Kurt Hanson, and any complaints filed on their behalf. A response to that request was received Wednesday.
The complaint was sent to the city by attorneys Jeff Scott Olson and Andrea J. Farrell on behalf of Hernandez and Hanson, but was never filed in court due to the settlement. Farrell told The Journal Times in an email that both cases were included because, “they had claims that arose from the same practice/policy of the Racine PD.”
There is no personal connection between Hanson and Hernandez laid out in the claim, but they both know what it’s like to have a beloved family pet killed by law enforcement.
The complaint alleges that the Police Department changed its policies under the leadership of Police Chief Art Howell, leading to the deaths of those beloved canines.
Howell, in a statement to The Journal Times, vehemently denied that any policy changes leading to increased force against animals were put in place since he became chief. He added, regarding the lawsuit, that “any communication that asserts that Racine Police Department practices or policies initiated under my administration were unconstitutional, is not only false, but libelous in nature.”
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