A Murrieta man says he's being treated unfairly after his girlfriend’s rare-breed dog was shot by police officers, who then discovered a pot-growing operation at the couple’s rented home.
"I just want some answers as to why my dog was shot in the face by a police officer and how that led to me being dragged out of my house in handcuffs," said Justin Armstrong, 25, who got out of jail Monday following the March 24 incident.
The dog, initially dubbed as a vicious pit bull by the reporting party, is a Dogo Argentino. The breed is a mixture of several, including Boxer, Mastiff, Great Dane and Bulldog, according to its owners, and can stand more than 2 feet tall.
Armstrong's dog "Big," weighs about 150 lbs.
Big was recovering Monday from bullet wounds to his left jaw. Jena Metivier, Big's registered owner and Armstrong's longtime girlfriend, paid about $1,500 in veterinarian bills to have the bullet removed, as well as eight teeth, and the subsequent stitching. She drove the dog to her regular veterinarian in San Diego after it was shot.
According to Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad, the shooting occurred after police received a report that a woman walking her female Boxer was struggling to keep her dog away from a vicious dog.
The incident took place just before 8 a.m. on Whitewood Road near Alta Murrieta Elementary School. The call came from a Murrieta Valley Unified School District bus driver who witnessed the scene, Conrad said, and offered to call someone for help.
"We got a call that a vicious pit bull was attacking a woman," Conrad said. “We had to step between the woman and the dog to keep her from being injured by the animal.”
Lt. Conrad said animal control was summoned, but before they could get there, the officer attempted to create a separation between the dog, the woman and her Boxer. The dog was attempting to mate with the Boxer, he said.
"When he got there, he literally tried to get between the dog and the woman's dog, and told the woman to continue to her home, trying to create a distance between them," Conrad said.
A City public works employee who was watching the scene unfold helped the officer create a makeshift leash with a chain, in an attempt to secure the dog and increase that distance, Conrad said.
The dog continued to act aggressively toward the officer, jumping on him and attempting to bite him, Conrad said, as the dog sought to chase the Boxer.
"The reality is he feels he is going to be bit," Conrad said. "He had to make choices and do them very, very quickly."
The officer then shot the dog in the jaw.
"It is unfortunate that the dog had to be shot," Conrad said.
The wounded dog retreated and returned to its owners' home on Wild Flower Drive.
Dog Leads to Marijuana Arrest
"I feel violated. I don't understand why a police officer shoots my dog. Why wasn't he Tasered or bean-bagged?" Armstrong said.
Armstrong was subsequently arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana for sale, possessing marijuana and theft of utility services shortly after his dog was shot. Conrad said officers smelled the aroma of marijuana when they approached the residence to obtain the dog owner's information.
Armstrong claims he is a medical marijuana patient, and was licensed to grow for a collective.
Conrad said officers saw evidence at the residence that marijuana was being cultivated for sale outside of a collective, and that that evidence generated probable cause for an arrest.
The Riverside County District Attorney's Office is still reviewing the case. As of Tuesday, no charges had yet been filed against Armstrong, said John Hall, spokesman for the district attorney's office.
Electricity was allegedly being routed from a Southern California Edison box to accommodate the marijuana grow. That could also be a felony, Conrad said.
Armstrong claims he was unaware the power was being routed from the box. He said he paid someone to come in and set up the grow.
"Bottom line is I thought I was following the rules. If I did break the rules, I'm sorry," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he was given a May 27 court date.
Will the Dog be Marked as Vicious?
Refuting claims that their dog is vicious, Metivier said an animal control official asked her to sign a form admitting her dog is vicious.
Under California law, a vicious dog is described as "any dog which, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being."
Conrad confirmed no one was injured by the dog during the incident.
Animal Friends of the Valleys, which serves as Murrieta's animal control authority, could not be reached Tuesday for comment to verify if any citations were issued as a result of the incident.
Armstrong said the dog must have gotten loose from their home through a window he propped open earlier that morning. The couple owns three other Dogo Argentinos.
Metivier said Big has been around children before, including in a third grade classroom.
"If he was so vicious of an animal, why did they shoot him and let him go?" she said.