Kenneth Wayne Flynn, a former deputy chief in the Fort Worth, Texas police department will not be tried for hunting down and fatally shooting a German shepherd dog that escaped from a nearby home’s yard. Although the former officer was initially charged with animal cruelty/torture, a grand jury decided not to indict him on Wednesday. Flynn was a senior leader in the police department at the time of the shooting, although he decided to retire after he was initially charged.
The shooting occurred after Flynn received a tearful call from his wife informing him that their pet cat was dead. A neighbor told Flynn’s wife that a German shepherd had been standing over the deceased cat, though it is not clear that anyone witnessed the attack itself. After a neighbor tipped him off on where he could find the dog, Flynn spotted the German shepherd along with a pit bull. He shot at the dog, fatally wounding it.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Flynn initially frustrated a police investigation into the shooting, although he later admitted that he was the shooter. Though three officers responded to the scene of the shooting and eventually found Flynn in his front yard, Flynn reportedly identified himself to the officers as a deputy chief and told them that he was “not involved” with the shooting. He also reportedly told the three officers that they “don’t need to keep looking.”
So, on the surface, this looks like an example of a case where a cop — in this case, a very high-ranking cop — was able to escape criminal charges because of their position on the police force. There is, however, another wrinkle to the case. A Texas law provides that a “dog or coyote that is attacking, is about to attack, or has recently attacked livestock, domestic animals, or fowls may be killed by . . . the attacked animal’s owner or a person acting on behalf of the owner if the owner or person has knowledge of the attack.” Thus Texas law explicitly authorizes individuals to exact vigilante justice against dogs that injure their pets.
Admittedly, the facts of this case are somewhat ambiguous. Though Flynn had reason to believe that the German shepherd was responsible for his cat’s death, the evidence against this dog appears less than airtight. In the absence of this Texas law, the German shepherd might have been taken into custody, and an investigation could have determined whether it, the pit bull, or perhaps some other animal was responsible for the cat’s death. Even if Flynn could not be convicted of killing the dog, moreover, it is possible that he could have faced charges for obstructing the three officers’ investigation if further investigations show that he did, indeed, engage in such obstruction.
Yet, despite whatever ambiguities may exist in this case, Flynn’s own attorney credits the Texas law with rescuing his client. He says that “[w]e’re glad the grand jury took a careful look at the case and correctly applied Texas law that allows an individual to kill a dangerous dog that’s just attacked one of their cats.”