By WECT Staff | February 5, 2021 at 2:05 PM EST – Updated February 5 at 5:10 PM
BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) – A Burgaw man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Pender County Sheriff’s Office after a deputy fatally shot his dog while responding to a welfare check in August.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina on Thursday, Bruce Benson alleges “unlawful conduct” by the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Alan Cutler in the killing of his dog, Astro, which deprived him of his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution.
The timeline of the events that led to the dog’s death were outlined in the lawsuit and are mostly similar to what was previously provided by the sheriff’s office.
On Aug. 15, 2020, Pender County deputies responded to Benson’s home on Wolfe Run Road in Burgaw around 10:30 a.m. for a welfare check after Benson didn’t show for a scheduled church workday event the previous day.
As the deputies approached Benson’s home, Astro — a four-year-old a Dutch Shepard and Belgian Malinois mix — began barking from inside. Deputies knocked on the front door and Benson eventually answered as the dog continued to bark and growl.
At some point, the dog managed to slide through the open door as the deputies were talking to Benson and chased two deputies toward Benson’s truck.
One of the deputies climbed into the back of the truck, while the second deputy tried to “retreat and look for protection,” according to the sheriff’s office. The lawsuit stated the deputy “assumed a defensive position utilizing [the truck] as cover” and fatally shot Astro when the dog was “squarely within the kill-zone of the deputy’s ambush.”
The lawsuit claims that among the four deputies that responded, the two that Astro chased were “rookie deputies not properly trained, qualified, certified, or otherwise authorized to possess or utilize a standard-issued taser or any other form of non-lethal measures.”
“The Sheriff’s Office and [Sheriff Alan Cutler] directly and proximately caused the death of Plaintiff’s dog when they failed to adequately and properly hire, train, and supervise their agents, employees, or other duly authorized representatives in regard to the employment and use of lethal or deadly force and non-lethal force,” according to the suit.
Benson also states in the lawsuit that he is a veteran who used Astro as an emotional support animal and “suffered severe emotional distress” watching the dog be shot to death.
“Plaintiff subsequently lost sleep, abused alcohol, and sought medical treatment from a licensed physician following the death of his dog and was diagnosed with severe and debilitating depression, post-traumatic stress, and experienced weight loss due to a loss of appetite as a result,” the lawsuit alleges.
Benson is seeking a jury trial and to be awarded compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages from the sheriff’s office.
WECT has reached out to the Pender County Sheriff’s Office for comment regarding the lawsuit and will add the agency’s response when we receive it.
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