CHARLESTON – A Wood County woman says she has been the victim of malicious prosecution after she stopped a state Trooper from shooting her dog.
The West Virginia State Police, state Trooper Seth Cook and State Police Col. C.R. “Jay” Smithers were named defendants in the lawsuit filed by Tiffanie Hupp of Waverly. Her son Riley Hupp and stepfather Clifford Myers also are named as plaintiffs in the suit, filed Jan. 25 in federal court.
The lawsuit was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in partnership with Charleston attorney Davis Schles, St. Louis attorney John Campbell of Campbell Law LLC and University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau.
The incident occurred in May 2015. Tiffanie Hupp stepped in front of Cook as he was about to shoot her dog Buddy, who was tied to a tree on her property. Tiffanie says she was thrown to the ground, arrested and improperly prosecuted. The incident was caught on video by Hupp’s husband.
Myers had called 911 seeking police assistance after an argument with a neighbor. Cook and state Trooper S.S. Michael were the ones assigned to handle the incident. No arrests were made in connection with that argument. The incident with the dog occurred as Cook left the scene and walked through the yard where Hupp and her son were playing.
The dog barked at Cook, according to the lawsuit. Cook then drew his weapon, pointed it at Buddy’s head, and put his finger on the trigger.
“He was following his training that mandates that he shoot any dog that approaches him,” the lawsuit states.
“Cook walked onto the plaintiffs’ property, drew his loaded gun, and pointed it at Buddy’s head,” an ALDF press release states. “At the time, Hupp was playing with her 3-year-old son Riley in the vicinity. Cook directed Hupp, ‘control your dog now,’ so she swiftly moved between the gun wielding state trooper and Buddy in an effort to protect Buddy and her son from the trauma of seeing his beloved dog shot.
“Cook grabbed Hupp and threw her to the ground, then pushed her against the police car and arrested her. Cook then entered another plaintiff’s home – without warrant or probable cause – and confiscated personal property, including the recording device on which the event was captured.”
At trial, Cook said his decision to shoot a dog who did not pose any threat to him was based on his training, according to the ALDF, which says this training has led to the deaths of at least 15 dogs killed between 2010 and 2014 by West Virginia state Troopers.
“Police shooting dogs is a preventable tragedy in most situations,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “Many jurisdictions are providing mandatory canine encounter trainings to law enforcement to address these types of encounters without lethal force.
“Police officers are going to interact with dogs in the field, so they should be given the knowledge and resources to assess the threat involved and utilize alternatives to lethal force if they interact with a dog who they believe may be aggressive.”
The video of the incident was shown in court, and Hupp was acquitted by a jury.
“It shocks the conscience that police would arrest and prosecutors would seek to incarcerate a woman who did nothing other than protect a dog from being illegally shot,” Campbell, one of Hupp’s attorneys, said.
In their federal lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege excessive force, unlawful arrest and unlawful search and seizure, which are violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. They also allege malicious prosecution, negligent training of a police officer and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery and slander.
“Although Ms. Hupp may well have saved the dog’s life, she was not entirely able to spare her son from trauma,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs seek restitution, including funds so Riley Hupp can be treated by a mental health professional. The ALDF says the boy suffers anxiety and emotional distress when in the presence of police officers.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory, consequential, presumed and special damages as well as punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief. The case has been assigned to Judge Thomas E. Johnson.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 2:17-cv-00926