Controversial dog shooting by Winters city employee causes outrage
GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: The following story contains graphic content about the shooting death of an animal some readers might find disturbing. Reader caution is advised.
BALLINGER — Video footage of an animal control officer shooting a dog in Winters has led to public outrage and scrutiny of the incident, which the City of Winters is defending.
The animal control officer was acting in “the normal course of his duties,” according to a statement from the Winters Police Department.
Winters resident Angela New doesn't agree.
New, who lives across the street from where the event took place, uploaded a cell phone video roughly a minute-long of the shooting that occurred Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. New's own surveillance cameras also provide information about what happened.
Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, an animal control officer with the City of Winters can be seen standing near a white pickup parked outside a home. As the animal control officer speaks to a second City employee wearing a yellow vest, New can be heard berating them both.
"I've watched this dog run around my neighborhood for days now, and he's never attacked any of us," New says in the video.
On the other side of a fence is a dog named "Baxter," a 3-year-old Great Dane who had jumped into a neighbor's yard Tuesday.
Both the city employee and the animal control officer claim in the video the dog had tried to bite them. As a result, the animal control officer had shot Baxter at least once already.
"You're not doing your job as a dog catcher by letting the (expletive) thing suffer like that," New can be heard in the video.
Shortly after New's remarks, the animal control officer walks over to the dog. As Baxter limps toward the officer from the other side of the fence, the officer leans over the fence, points a handgun, pulls the trigger, and fires one last shot.
What we know about 'Baxter' the dog shot from New's video
The dog, a Great Dane named Baxter, belonged to the Hooser family and had jumped the fence to the next door neighbor's yard. According to New, the family had just moved to Winters on Nov. 7.
New's surveillance camera shows her pulling out of her driveway and pausing after she is out on the street. She claims the officer shot the dog a total of three times.
"The (code enforcement officer) shot the dog twice as I was leaving my driveway. I heard the first shot. Then I drove around the block and heard a second shot," New said.
When New pulls back up to her house a couple of minutes later, she took the video that has caused outrage against the city employees.
"They were just standing there with their hands in their pockets, laughing and talking. The dog was lying there on the ground and trying to get up," New said.
"I was upset and yelled at them about shooting the dog and it suffering while they stood there laughing," she said
Despite New's statements, no laughter from either men can be heard in the video.
City defends actions of animal control officers
In a story reported by KTAB, the Winters Police Department reported the dog had been "an ongoing safety concern" at the residence where the dog was shot and killed.
"Multiple issues had taken place prior, at the residence, regarding the dog getting into the fenced-in area of the residence, and being aggressive toward the property owner and the owner's cats, killing some of them," police said.
Police also expressed concern for an elderly woman who lives at the residence being unable to defend herself against such a "large, aggressive dog."
New disagreed with the police department's statement.
"I don't believe that there were any complaints against the dog. Once, we saw the lady who lives in that house sitting on the back porch, smoking a cigarette, and the dog was there as well. It wasn't doing anything aggressive. It was just sitting there."
Baxter's owner, Jessica Hooser, said animal control officers didn't contact her prior to the shooting and she isn't aware of any complaints against her dog.
"No, we never received any reports or complaints from anyone, including the neighbor involved with the shooting," Hooser said.
Hooser commented on the grief her family is experiencing, "Baxter was a fun loving giant goofball. We knew he was determined to get out and we were doing everything in our power with our split schedules to fix every spot but he kept finding a way out. Baxter was always sheltered and I think with the new house and chain link fence he could see the new exciting outside world and adventures. Our hearts are breaking because how he suffered was not at all what he deserved"
The Runnels County Register could not verify if official complaints had been filed against the dog as of Thursday, Dec. 16, but submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Winters Police Department, requesting and previous complaints against the dog, and requesting a copy of the incident report in which the officer shot the dog.
Hooser also said neither police nor any city employees alerted her of the shooting, which Hooser said she found out about from neighbors later that day.
"Some neighbors came by the house and let my husband know what had happened. Then he messaged me because I was at work," Hooser said, adding that she and her husband work different shifts.
"Someone is almost always at the house. They could have easily let us know if he was being bothersome," Hooser said.
Animal control officer chose lethal force, after saying he was unable to use catch pole
According to the report, the animal control officer observed the dog "foaming from the mouth, and it did not have a collar or tags indicating it had been vaccinated against rabies."
The officer tried "multiple times to make friendly contact with the dog," according to the report, including "offering the back of his hand to the dog through the chain link fence, to which the dog tried to snap and bite him through."
The officer was unable to use a catch pole, deeming the action too dangerous to himself and risking allowing the dog back onto the streets, according to the report.
Police said that after all other options were exhausted, "the decision was made to neutralize the dog by means of a firearm discharge," the report states.
New contends the dog was not barking or charging anyone.
"He was just a very sweet dog," New said.
The video from her cell phone and surveillance camera footage that New provided to the Runnels County Register do not appear to show the dog being aggressive.
The Winters Police Department defended the actions of the animal control officers in a statement they released to media.
"After shooting the dog in the head one time, the animal control officer waited to determine if the dog had succumbed to the injury, before attempting to safely remove the dog," a report stated.
While not naming New directly, police say "a neighbor confronted the officer while recording video, which prevented him from killing the dog in a timely manner."
"The verbal confrontation drew (the officer’s) attention away from the dog, interfering with (his) ability to carry out his official duties in a timely manner, by being concerned with the approaching citizen's demeanor and their safety, while discharging a firearm," according to a statement.
Justice for Baxter?
New's cellphone video was originally posted by a man who lives in Winters, Slater Lindley. The video has been shared thousands of times with over 10,000 views and hundreds of comments
Many residents of Winters have posted photos of the dog with the caption, "Justice for Baxter."
The comments and reactions to the video show the depth of the outrage, shock and anger felt by those who have watched the video.
"I feel that if I had not witnessed (the) code enforcement officer killing the dog, the family never would have known what happened, because after shooting the dog they picked the dog up and took off. The dog has come over to my house a couple of times. He was never aggressive. He was sweet and would lick my hand. I cried after I shut the video off. They just picked up the dog and hauled it off," New says.
New contacted members of the city council to make a complaint, showing a conversation between her and the mayor on Facebook Messenger.
"I contacted the mayor, Mark Burkhart, and city councilman Elmer Buckaloo at 9:07 a.m. Tuesday. The mayor thanked me and said that he'd look into it," New said.
Requests for comments police department, other than what is in the KTAB story, have not been returned.
Winters city councilman Elmer Buckaloo released the following statement:
"I have been made aware of the situation and believe that I do not have enough information at this time to make a judgement. There will be a Council meeting on 12-20-21. If you would like to address the members please come to the meeting and voice your feelings."
This story will be updated throughout the rest of this week and next week. It will be updated with any comments or statements issued from the city or police department. We will be at the Winters City Council meeting on Monday as we continue our coverage .