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Coeur d’Alene settles Arfee shooting for $80,000

UPDATED: Tue., March 17, 2015, 10:34 p.m.

Eight months after a Coeur d’Alene police officer shot and killed a dog in a parked van, sparking criticism from across the nation, the city has agreed to pay the dog’s owner $80,000.

The settlement was approved Tuesday night in a unanimous vote of the City Council.

Craig Jones, whose 2-year-old Labrador Arfee died from a gunshot wound to the chest on July 9, had sought $350,000 in damages. The city and Jones’ attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham, have been in settlement talks the past few months.

“By agreeing to this sum, the City, its police force, and the shooting officer recognized their tremendous exposure to protracted litigation followed by a sound defeat at trial,” Karp said in an email tonight. “This prefiling settlement represents the largest to date in the Pacific Northwest, if not the country, involving the wrongful death of a dog at the hands of law enforcement. May this deter future unnecessary tragedies.”

“This was a regrettable event that the city has taken complete responsibility for,” Mayor Steve Widmyer said in a statement Tuesday. “I want to again extend our apologies to Mr. Jones.”

City spokesman Keith Erickson said, “We really believe it best serves all parties involved. It’s just an unfortunate incident that happened, and what we want to do is put it behind us.”

Officer David Kelley shot Arfee through the window of the van, which Jones had parked outside a downtown coffee shop. Kelley said he fired because he was afraid of being bitten in the face by the dog when it lunged at him through a partially open window.

Police initially described the dog as “a vicious” pit bull – one of the mistakes the city later admitted had contributed to angry reactions from residents as well as people from out of the area who had read about the shooting.

A city review board and an external review committee both found that the shooting violated department policy for use of deadly force. The review concluded, “The potential for injury to citizens, including a potential suspect in the vehicle, does not appear to have been factored in to the decision prior to using deadly force.”

In response to the shooting, the police department required all 72 officers to watch a series of short training videos on dog encounters. The series, “Police and Dog Encounters: Tactical Strategies and Effective Tools to Keep Our Communities Safe and Humane,” was produced by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services office, Safe Humane Chicago and the National Canine Research Council.

“I am not saying officers should compromise safety, but understanding dog behavior and having nonlethal options will reduce the number of lethal incidents that are a tragedy for all involved,” interim Police Chief Ron Clark said last summer.

The council discussed the settlement in executive session Tuesday, then voted for the payment afterward in open session.

The money will be paid from the city’s self-insurance fund. It will settle all claims against the city and its employees stemming from the shooting.