Mali, a 3-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, balances her front paws on Demarkus Peeples’ thighs, gives him a long look then returns to all fours and takes a walk around the front porch of the North Park house where she lives with her owner, Ross Meyer. She walks back over to Peeples and does it again. She’s got sparkly purple polish on her nails.
Two days earlier, Peeples’ dog Egypt, also an American Staffordshire Terrier, was shot by San Diego police officers who say the dog came at them in a threatening manner. Egypt was hit three times—in the paw, lower leg and shoulder—and less than an hour later, she was euthanized by San Diego County Animal Control officers, who say Peeples gave them permission to put Egypt down. Peeples said he did no such thing.
“I told them over and over, ‘Do not euthanize my dog,’” he said.
“I’m pretty sure she knows” about Egypt’s death, Meyer said, commenting on Mali’s behavior toward Peeples.
Usually lumped in with Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, or AmStaffs, have a reputation not as fighters but as loyal family pets. Peeples said he never had any problems with Egypt, except a complaint from a neighbor that she barked too loud. Egypt loved to play with Peeples’ 7-year-old son and 6-year-old nephew and would sit at the edge of Peeples’ front yard, waiting for neighbors to come over to give her treats. Like her dog pal Mali, she often had polish on her nails—Meyer’s mom’s idea—and a matching collar. She didn’t so much like the manicures, but after they were over, “she’d run around with a little pep in her step,” Peeples said.
“She was the delightful nuisance of the neighborhood,” said Chris Victor, who lives across the street from Peeples. “She’d see you and she’d wag from head to toe.”
But for all their friendliness, AmStaffs are inclined to protect their owners and property, which could be the reason Egypt went running toward the cops.
Around noon on Tuesday, Dec. 2, Peeples was watching TV at home when he heard a knock at the front door. When he looked out the door’s top window, he saw a group of men standing on his porch wearing jeans and T-shirts, a couple of them looking a little ratty. To get a better look, he went to a side window and peeked through the drawn blinds. “Honestly, they looked like they were transients,” he said.
The men, it ends up, were undercover narcotics officers who were there on a complaint about drug activity at that address—Peeples was later told that it had to do with a “chemical smell.” Peeples said the men—he estimates there were six—never announced who they were.
He decided not to open the door and watched as two broke off from the group and walked up the driveway that runs alongside the one-story bungalow he shares with his mom. The men opened a gate leading to the backyard and walked up to the back door. They started knocking and yelling “Hello?” through the locked security door, Peeples recalled.
Peeples was standing in the doorway of a front bedroom where he could see the men but they couldn’t see him. “It looked like they were trying to case my house,” Peeples said. Egypt ran to the security door and started to bark at the strangers.
Eventually the two men left the back door and returned to the front of the house. Peeples opened the back door to take a look around; when he did, Egypt ran out. Normally, she’d stop at the backyard gate, he said, but the men had left the gate’s door open. With nothing to stop her, Egypt went running down the driveway and Peeples went after her. He heard gunshots and saw two men with guns drawn.
Wounded, Egypt ran to the backyard. The men pulled out their badges, told Peeples they were undercover narcotics agents, handcuffed him and told him he was being charged with assault with a deadly weapon. A police cruiser pulled up, and Peeples was stuffed in the back. “Charge him with everything you can charge him with,” he remembers one of the officers saying.
San Diego Police Department spokesperson Monica Muñoz confirmed that Egypt didn’t attack the officers, but she said they were within policy to shoot her.
“The animal was charging the officers,” she said. “They weren’t going to wait to see if [she] was actually going to bite them.”
Muñoz disputed Peeples’ claim that there were six officers, saying that narcotics officers work in teams of four. As to their attire—Peeples said he would have opened the door immediately and kept Egypt at bay if he saw a uniformed officer at his door—Muñoz said that’s not the way narcotics officers operate.
“Narcotics teams work undercover, work in plainclothes,” she said. She referred to what they were doing as a “knock-and-talk” and confirmed that officers didn’t have a search warrant. “They didn’t do any surveillance…. They went out to check out the complaint.”
Mike Marrinan, a San Diego attorney who specializes in police use-of-force cases, questioned the officers’ decisions, starting with having two undercover cops enter an enclosed backyard.
“People have an expectation of privacy in their backyard that they might not have in their front,” Marrinan said. And, obviously, leaving the gate open was a mistake, Marrinan noted. Peeples told CityBeat that if the officers had closed the gate, Egypt would never have run out.
Even more troubling, Marrinan said, is the fact that officers were so quick to draw their weapons in a residential area. Meyer, Peeples’ neighbor, said he heard five shots. According to a police dispatch log, a 911 call reported four or five shots.
“Bullets can ricochet,” Marrinan said. “You’ve got one relatively small dog, and we’re shooting our guns five times?”
Handcuffed and in the back of the police cruiser, Peeples watched as an animal-control officer led Egypt, covered in blood, out from the backyard. From the trail of blood she left behind, Peeples later determined that Egypt had run up to the back door and then took refuge under some shrubs. Peeple’s was approached by an animal-control officer who asked for permission to put Egypt to sleep, telling him it was the humane thing to do.
Animal Control spokesperson Dan DeSousa said Peeples’ verbal authorization to euthanize Egypt was witnessed by a second officer, but Peeples insists he never gave permission. “Do not kill my dog; do everything you can to save my dog,” he remembers yelling. When he saw Chris Victor, his neighbor, he asked him to make sure Egypt was kept alive. Victor said he called animal control to let them know he’d cover any cost for Egypt’s care, but by the time his call got through, Egypt had been euthanized. DeSousa said the dog was put down immediately after arriving.
Though the assault charge against Peeples was dropped, Muñoz said police have filed misdemeanor charges against him with the San Diego City Attorney’s office, including not having a dog license, endangering the public’s safety and possession of marijuana. A search of Peeples’ garage, OK’d by his mom, turned up a scale and a tiny amount of marijuana so old that it disintegrated upon contact.
Peeples went to pick up Egypt from animal control last Thursday. Victor and Meyer went with him. She was handed over in a clear plastic bag.
“They didn’t know she was a sweetheart,” Victor said. “Had they said ‘sit,’ she would have sat.”
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