Escambia County deputies shoot two dogs

9:45 AM, Aug 7, 2013   |    comments
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Warrington, Florida (PNJ) -- Escambia County deputies climbed through the window of a Warrington couple's home in search of a suspect, despite having no search warrant, and shot two dogs, one of which died.

Cristina Moses, 32, and her fiancé, Travis Nicholas, 22, on Tuesday recounted what they said was a horrific scene that included one of about a half-dozen deputies shooting the dogs in the couple's bedroom after awakening the couple at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday and dragging them to the hallway.

Moses' 13-month-old blue pit bull, Gracie, was euthanized early Monday because of the gunshots, Moses said. Her other dog, a 3-year-old bulldog mix named Rocky, was shot in the leg but is recovering at the couple's home.

On Tuesday, the couple said they had barely slept or eaten and had not attempted to clean up the bed and several rooms of the home that are spattered with blood from both dogs.

Neither Moses nor Nicholas had been arrested as of Tuesday night in the incident.

The Sheriff's Office provided limited information and said an investigation is continuing.

A sheriff's news release stated that deputies believed that a suspect in an armed disturbance earlier in the evening on the couple's street, Flynn Drive near Corry Station, frequented the home where Moses and Nicholas lived.

Several witnesses reported a man toting a gun and threatening people during the evening, according to an incident report. One witness reported the man's name as Travis.

Nicholas denied that he either had a gun or made any threats.

While checking the perimeter of the home, deputies found an upside-down bucket with a footprint on it beneath an open window, indicating a possible unlawful entry into the home, the release says.

"Repeated attempts were made to get someone to open the door, with no success," the release states. "Deputies entered the house through the open window in an effort to locate the suspect and to assure the safety of the occupants."

How many deputies came in through the window is not clear.

Under the law, officers can enter a house without a search warrant, or under so-called exigent circumstances, only if they think people are in imminent danger, evidence faces immediate destruction or a suspect will escape.

"There is no ready litmus test for determining whether such circumstances exist, and in each case, the extraordinary situation must be measured by the facts known by officials," according to a California case that lays out parameters for warrantless entry.

Barking dogs

The sheriff's new release reported that the two dogs did not appear aggressive at first.

But then, according to the release, "Upon encountering the people in the house, the dogs became aggressive. One dog bit at one of the deputy's leg. He pushed the dog away, but it came at him again so he shot the dog in self-defense, at which time the second dog began to run towards him. For his personal safety, he shot the second dog."

The release stops short of saying the first dog bit the officer, who was not identified.

Moses and Nicholas say the dogs did not bite an officer, and they also give a different account of what happened.

She said she and her fiancé were asleep when they heard a commotion and the dogs inside the bedroom with them started barking.

"I opened the door and there were six police officers pointing guns at me and flashlights, saying 'Show me your hands. Get on the ground,'" Moses said.

"I went to the ground when they told me to and then they said, 'Is there anybody else in the room?' and Travis said 'Yes, I am,' and they put him on the ground, told him 'Show me your hands. Show me your hands.'"

At that point, Moses and Nicholas said, officers pulled them onto the ground of the hallway, cuffing Nicholas, and placing their boots on the couple's backs and arms.

"The cops threw Cristina on the ground, cussing," Nicholas said. "It was obvious that I'm not armed because I'm in my boxers."

The couple said that as they were lying on the ground, a deputy went back into the bedroom.

Shots fired

"And I'm in the doorway so I can see into the bedroom, and I see him shooting across the bed ... to my dogs that are on the opposite side of a queen-sized bed," Moses said.

"I heard five shots go off. Around the third shot, I hopped up and I went, 'No stop. No.' And he continued to fire a couple more shots after that," she said.

Shortly, after that, Moses said she and Nicholas were taken outside by deputies and placed on a curb. She was then placed in a patrol car for more than an hour because she "wouldn't shut up."

"All I did was keep asking if they could tell me what happened to my dogs," she said. "All they said was 'We'll take care of that later.'"

Moses said she suffered a minor hand injury during the ordeal, and paramedics showed up to treat it.

Sheriff's deputies took the dogs to a veterinary hospital.

Earlier events

A sheriff's incident report says officers first arrived on Flynn Drive about 8:30 p.m. in response to a call about an armed disturbance involving several people.

The report says Wayde Morris, 22, got into an argument with his ex-girlfriend and her father and approached them with a bat and a machete.

Morris was arrested on a charge of aggravated ­assault. He remains in the Escambia County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

According to the report, a man in a gray tank top came by during the argument, pointed a gun at the victims, and said, "I will splatter your brains on the sidewalk." A witness identified the man as "Travis," the report states.

On Tuesday, the surviving dog, named Rocky, seemed friendly and laid-back.

Moses was tearful. She and her fiancé both have criminal records, mostly on misdemeanor drug charges, but they said they did nothing to provoke the deputies coming into their home and shooting the dogs.

"I'm frustrated because this could have been prevented," Moses said. "I don't know why it happened ... I feel like my child has died."

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