Police Agree To Pay Woman $750,000 After Raiding Her House and Killing Her Dog Over an Unpaid Gas Bill

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St. Louis County has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman whose dog was killed by police during a no-knock SWAT raid over an unpaid gas bill.

According to the lawsuit, filed by one Angela Zorich, members of the St. Louis County Police Department’s Tactical Response Unit executed a search warrant of Zorich’s home in April 2014 following an anonymous tip that Zorich had had gas and electric service shut off at her house, the latter of which is a violation of the county’s housing code.

During the raid, police arrested Zorich and shot and killed the Zorichs’ dog, a 4-year-old pit bull named Kiya.

Police argued that Kiya charged them after they entered the home, giving them no choice but to shoot it. Zorich’s complaint says that Kiya made no threatening movements, and that officers shot her immediately upon entering the home. Zorich’s lawsuit says that her infant grandson was in the house at the time of the raid. It also claims that an officer held a gun to her son Isiah’s head, threatening to “put three” in him if he spoke.

Following her arrest, Zorich’s home, already under foreclosure, was condemned and the family was forced to move.

“I think the settlement says they need to take a serious look at this practice, and hopefully change the policies to better protect the rights of its residents,” Jerry Dobson, Zorich’s attorney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch following the settlement agreement.

According to neighbors, police were frequently called to the Zorich residence over domestic disputes.

In the days leading up to the April 2014 raid, police—acting on a tip that gas and electrical service had been shut off—inspected the outside of Zorich’s home, marking it as a “problem property.” Zorich later called the county police to try and settle the “problem property” designation.

According to her lawsuit, Zorich had a testy exchange with one Robert Rinck, an officer assigned to the county’s Problem Properties unit, during which she agreed to have code inspectors come look at the inside of her home.

The next day Rinck requested and received a search warrant for her home. The raid on Zorich’s home happened a few hours later.

Zorich’s lawsuit claims that the SWAT raid on her home was completely unnecessary given that officers had felt safe inspecting the outside of her home just a few days ago, and that she had voluntarily agreed to open her door to county inspectors—negating the need for anyone to kick it down.

Zorich’s lawsuit also argues that the minor nature of the violations she was accused of should have forestalled the SWAT raid.

Indeed, if St. Louis County police are empowered to knock down a door for minor code violations, they can effectively raid a house for anything, leaving property owners and residents with little assurance that their Fourth Amendment rights mean anything at all in St. Louis County.

The chaotic nature of these raids also increases the chances of violence, given that officers, homeowners, and their animals are all thurst suddenly into a very volatile situation involving lots of guns.

Indeed, the overreliance on SWAT teams to perform ordinary law enforcement functions is one of the reasons cops end up shooting so many dogs in the first place.

Hopefully, the hefty settlement awarded to Zorich will get St. Louis County police to reconsider the wisdom of no-knock raids.

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