Terre Haute PD shows bodycam video responding to viral dog kicking video, officer won't be charged

The Terre Haute Police Department says they know the video, understand the outrage, and started their own investigation. The officer's bodycam video was sent to the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office for review.

Posted: Dec 2, 2021 11:55 AM
Updated: Dec 2, 2021 1:07 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) -- We are following a developing story in Terre Haute, and it all started with a viral video.

On Tuesday evening, WTHI-TV started receiving tips and a link to a video that shows a Terre Haute police officer kicking a dog.

WTHI has made several attempts to contact the person who posted the video for more information on their side of this story. So far, we haven't heard back.

You can view that video here.

A thread on Reddit shows thousands of people have commented on the Ring video.

Terre Haute Police Response 

On Wednesday, the Terre Haute Police Department made a lengthy post on social media explaining its side of the story, including body cam video.

You can see the full post here, but here are some of the key points.

The police department says they know the video, understand the outrage, and started their own investigation. The officer's bodycam video was sent to the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office for review.

One of the claims in the viral video post claims police were responding to the home for a burglary. Terre Haute police said that wasn't the case. They claim they were responding to call about an animal complaint.

The complaint claims an aggressive white pit bull was charging at people on the 1700 block of Ohio Street. The person who made the complaint claims the dog bit a child and mail carrier.

Police claim there is a history of animal complaints regarding animals from this home.

Police claim a couple of hours after the original call, the homeowner told police they think someone broke into their home, and that's how the dogs escaped.

The Body Cam Video

Warning - the following video may be hard to watch and contains vulgar language. 

Here's a breakdown of what the police said you can find in the body cam video. The Terre Haute Police Department only released 3 minutes and 46 seconds of the body cam video but says the full video should be released soon.

  • The total length of the video - 1 hour and 13 minutes
  • The first 3 minutes and 46 seconds show the officer's arrival and show dogs running from the porch at the officer
  • At 2 minutes and 11 seconds show an officer speak to a neighbor while a dog rushes at them
  • At 3 minutes and 31 seconds, the officer goes to the porch - which is the video that matches up with the viral Ring doorbell camera video
  • At 5 minutes and 52 seconds, the officers notice an open fence, where they suspect the dog escaped from

A person in the home was cited for two counts of non-immunized animal, two counts of dangerous animal prohibited and two counts of animal restraint.

What's next?

Police said they contacted the residents of the home multiple times, asking if they wanted to make a complaint. That person reportedly declined.

The prosecutor's office also reportedly reached out to the resident of the home, asking if they would like to meet with the prosecutor's office. They also declined those meetings.

According to police, the prosecutor's office determined the officer did not commit a crime.

WTHI's Porsha Williams talked with Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt. He said he did not find any that any criminal activity occurred.

He based this off of the Burns Indiana Statute.

"At this point, I made a determination that I don't feel any crime has been committed. The officer was doing his duty. Now whether or not he acted against THPD policy or their department rules or anything like that - that's up for the police department to determine," Modesitt said. 

While the police department conducts its own internal investigation - the officer involved has been placed on administrative duty assignment.

You can read the full Terre Haute Police Department post below. Below the Terre Haute Police Department statement, you’ll find an additional statement from the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office.

"We have received a number of messages alerting us to a Ring video that was posted to social media and reportedly represents a sergeant with our department allegedly responding to a burglary. This short video depicts the sergeant’s encounter with a dog on a porch. Based on this shared narrative and brief segment of video, we absolutely understand the perception and outrage expressed by many. We hold the highest regard for our police K9s and consider them all part of our family. Many of us have our own animals and would no more want to see them hurt than our own children. That being said, we have begun an investigation into this matter after providing all private video, body camera video, and reports to the prosecutor’s office for an independent review consistent with policy. While this investigation continues, there is some general information that we can provide to correct some of the misinformation being disseminated.

Officers were not dispatched to this residence for a burglary?

On November 29, 2021, at approximately 7:05 P.M., the Vigo County Central Dispatch received a call complaining of an aggressive white pit bull in the 1700 block of Ohio Street that had been “charging at everyone that goes by. RP advised that he has bitten a child and a mailman in the past and is very very aggressive.” The reporting person also advised that this is an ongoing problem.

A check revealed that on May 2, 2020, at approximately 7:50 P.M., officers were sent to the same address for a white pit bull that had bitten an 11 year old girl. At that time, officers reported that an adult female resident had indicated that her daughter had left the gate open and the dog had gotten out and went after the juvenile victim. The adult female was cited for Failure to Restrain a Dog Resulting in Bite or Attack.

This is the information received and the call history known to officers when responding to this call. Any claim that officers were responding to a reported burglary is untrue.

What does the body camera video tell us?

While the Ring video depicts approximately 76 seconds of this call showing officers entering the porch to try and make contact with the dog owners, the body camera video depicts 1 hour and 13 minutes of time for this call. The first 3 minutes and 46 seconds of the body camera footage depicts the arrival of the sergeant thru the brown dog running from the porch. At 1 minute and 3 seconds, the body camera shows both the white pit bull and the brown dog running at the officer from the east. Both dogs appear aggressive and continue to lunge at the sergeant from separate sides. At 2 minutes 11 seconds, the officer attempts to speak to a neighbor to the east when the brown dog again lunges at the officer repeatedly. At 2 minutes and 52 seconds, the sergeant gets away from the brown dog and begins speaking with a female neighbor about prior problems with the dogs. At 3 minutes 31 seconds, the sergeant is seen stepping onto the porch in line with the Ring video. At 5 minutes and 52 seconds, the officer points out to a neighbor an opening in the fence where he believes the dogs got out from. The rest of the body camera video depicts officers waiting for a male resident to arrive and officers speaking to him about the animals.

During the video, the male was cited for 2 counts of non-immunized animal, 2 counts of dangerous animal prohibited, and 2 counts of animal restraint. We have included the first 3 minutes and 46 seconds of the body camera footage to provide a better understanding of what led up to the Ring video. The Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office will also be releasing the full footage later today. While long, the later exchange between the resident and officers provides significant insight into the circumstances of this incident.

If the call was for aggressive dogs, where did the burglary claim originate?

After the original call completed, at approximately 10:49 P.M., the male resident contacted police again and reported that after speaking with his family, he believes someone may have gotten into their residence and that is how the dogs escaped. Nothing was reported missing at that time and no video was available depicting an intruder. This claim remains under investigation, but there are currently no witnesses or video indicating an intruder was present or that the dogs scared one off.

What is being done?

Upon learning of this video, we contacted the male resident and asked multiple times if he wished to make a complaint, and he declined.

The department has also provided all video, reports, and body camera videos to the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office to review and determine if any laws were broken. This is our policy to ensure that we are not investigating our own employees when there are allegations that may violate law. Having viewed all of the videos in their entirety and all reports, the prosecutor’s office has provided us a written determination that no criminal activity was found to have occurred on the part of the officer. The prosecutor’s office also independently contacted the male resident and offered to meet with him or any member of his family to allow them to view the full body camera footage. The prosecutor’s office indicated that this offer was declined.

While the conduct in the video has been determined by the prosecutor to not constitute a crime by the officer and the body camera footage is in sharp contrast to the original social media narrative, we will still be objectively evaluating the conduct to see if it violates any departmental policies or directives. During this process, the sergeant will be placed on administrative duty assignment."

Statement from the prosecutor’s office:

“On November 30, 2021, the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office was asked to review an incident from the prior evening where a Ring Doorbell video had been posted on social media and was being reviewed by the Terre Haute Police Department. As is policy with the department, any time a report comes to the department of possible criminal conduct, it is referred to the Prosecutor’s Office for review to see if an investigation by an outside agency should be requested. Upon initial review of the Ring video, we experienced some of the same concerns expressed by many on social media. An immediate review was begun. Ultimately the original video, two body cam video recordings, the 9-1-1 call reporting the aggressive dogs, and prior reports related to the dogs in question were reviewed.

The role of the prosecutor in this type of situation is well established. We do not write the laws, we are tasked with applying facts to the laws we are given and make a determination if there was a crime committed and if there are any legal protections provided to a person. To be as transparent as possible, we have provided the body cam recordings from both officers on scene and a slightly redacted version of the 9-1-1 call to our local media. The redactions removed the names and addresses for the people involved. We have also provided a copy of the Indiana law, which is quoted below.

As noted in the body camera video, approximately two minutes prior to the incident on the porch, the two dogs in question attacked the officer. The body cam recordings of the two officers show that the dog once again became aggressive when the officer went to the porch in an attempt to locate the owners of the animals. Whether the officer's response was a violation of department policy or was the better way to handle the situation is not what we are asked to review. So how are those facts applied to the Indiana law?

Indiana Code 35-46-3-12(b) A person who knowingly or intentionally abuses a vertebrate animal commits cruelty to an animal, a Class A misdemeanor.
...
(e) It is a defense to a prosecution under this section that the accused person:
(1) reasonably believes the conduct was necessary to:
(A) prevent injury to the accused person or another person;
As witnessed on the video recordings, the dog was engaged in pack tactics with another dog and both were aggressive with the officer. The officer was aware from the 911 call information and from the prior reports that these same dogs had attacked multiple people in the past and bitten at least one other person, a child. The call that was received indicated that the dogs had been terrorizing a small child prior to the call. And had also been aggressive toward another person that same evening. Another neighbor that was spoken with indicated the dogs frightened her.

So when the dog again became aggressive as the officer approached the door of the residence, with all of this information and the prior aggression by the dog, the statutory defense to prosecution, as noted above, applies”

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