Memorial where Rosie the Newfoundland was shot on Nov. 7, 2010.

by Ralph Nichols

A tranquil November Sunday in Des Moines five years ago was shattered when a gentle Newfoundland named Rosie was murdered in a neighborhood backyard by two local police officers.

Dog lovers around the world were horrified; many from this region sprang into action, demanding reforms in the way police respond to animal control situations as they called for “Justice for Rosie.”

Justice and change in Rosie’s name did take place in the months that followed. Charles and Deirdre Wright of Des Moines, who owned Rosie, were awarded monetary damages. Changes were made to city animal control procedures.

But for the Wrights, the pain of losing Rosie lingers on. Last week, shortly before the anniversary of her death, Charles sent this email to Scott Schaefer, publisher of The Waterland Blog:

“Nov. 7, 2010. Rosie was shot by Des Moines police. I will never forget.”

Anything that could go wrong seemingly went wrong that tragic Sunday afternoon.

While the Wrights were not at home, Rosie was reported loose on a residential street to Des Moines Police. With Jan Magnuson, the city’s animal control officer, off duty that day, four police officers including Sgt. Steve Wieland and Officer Michael Graddon were dispatched to that location.

After yelling at Rosie and chasing her, they then tried without success to Taser her. Wieland and Graddon proceeded to follow the fleeing dog into a back yard, where she was shot four times while cowering in the blackberry thicket.

The Wrights did not learn from Des Moines police for two days what had happened to Rosie.

Following separate investigations by the city, the King County Prosecutors Office and Pierce County Animal Control, no charges were filed against the two officers. The shooting was deemed justified because they had acted within department procedures in place at the time.

Nevertheless, flaws in the city’s animal control response were noted – especially while Magnuson was off duty – and changes in training and protocols were made by both the police department and city council.

None of this could console the Wrights for the loss Rosie, nor did it satisfy their need – and the need of animal rights activists – for justice and compensation for that loss.

In January 2011, animal rights attorney Adam Karp of Bellingham filed a motion in Des Moines Municipal Court seeking to bring misdemeanor animal cruelty charges against Graddon, who fired the shots, and Wieland, who ordered the shooting.

The officers based their defense on claims that they acted within department guidelines, and that Rosie appeared to be a dangerous animal.

The case was transferred to Snohomish County District Court and, after being dismissed on a technicality, was appealed to the superior court there.

Although they were cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Karp filed a civil complaint against the city of Des Moines, Wieland and Graddon in U.S. District Court, seeking monetary damages. They subsequently consented to a $51,000 settlement plus court costs and attorney fees – a total of $101,162.

And Karp has taken the lessons learned from the killing of Rosie to the Washington Law Enforcement Training Center in Burien to help change the way police officers are trained to respond to animal calls.

The Wrights dropped all claims against the police officers. They had received at last financial compensation for their loss, and had seen needed changes in the way local police officers now respond to loose animals.

But none of this ever would bring Rosie back or ease their loss.

(Read our previous coverage of this case here.)