The death of a dog, and two different narratives

By on October 8, 2022

Kitty Hawk expected to release probe findings this week

Lynnette Fenton discusses the shooting of her dog at the Kitty Hawk Council meeting. (Photo by Kip Tabb)

At 9:09 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, a phone call to Dare County dispatch reported a dog roaming around the Smith Street neighborhood of Kitty Hawk off Eckner Street. According to the transcript of the call provided by the Town of Kitty Hawk, the neighbor complained that “…the dog came into her yard growling at her and her children.”

Less than a half hour later, the officer on the scene, identified by various sources as Robert Meador, reported that shots had been fired and the dog was down.

The shooting set off a firestorm of comments and debate on Facebook and other social media platforms. The officer who discharged his weapon has been placed on administrative leave and the Kitty Hawk Police Department has instituted an internal investigation of the incident. There are two related investigations; the incident itself and how the officer handled it, and whether the discharge of a weapon was justified in this case.

“There is an internal investigation being conducted by the town of Kitty Hawk,” Kitty Hawk Police Chief Joel Johnson told the Voice. “This investigation is to determine if the officer acted appropriately following town policy and departmental guidelines in discharging his firearm.”

The issue of the discharge of a weapon and whether it was appropriate is being investigated by the District Attorney’s office Johnson said.

In a brief release issued on Oct. 7, the Town of Kitty Hawk said it “anticipates releasing the results of the internal investigation to the general public early next week.”

In an emotionally charged appearance on Monday, Oct. 3, the Kitty Hawk Town Council heard from the family of Sage, the dog that had been shot and killed by the Kitty Hawk police officer.

“Last Saturday, our dog and family member was shot in our yard,” Lynette Fenton told the council during public comment. “Any person who has dogs, and knows their value, knows the emotional, physical and spiritual support of our dogs.”

The officer was responding to complaints that the Fentons’ two dogs, Sage, a pit bull, and a small terrier were not in their yard and were roaming around the neighborhood. When the officer arrived on scene, the dogs were back on their property.

In her comments to the town council, Lynette Fenton declared the officer was challenged by Sage because he did not say who he was, or why he was there and had simply walked up the driveway.

“This unknown man…never announces he is a police officer. This man walking on the private property towards the dogs, never announces his presence, never announces his gun is drawn. He never announces he will fire; he never announces to my husband to try to retain the dogs. Within the few seconds that the owner spotted the man, shots were fired,” she said.

The dispatch report provided to the Voice says the officer did try to contact the Fentons.

“I [the police officer] attempted to make contact with the owner of the animal…While walking onto the property, approximately ten feet, a grey and white colored pit bull charged myself, biting the tip of my boot, the top of my boot, and my right rear leg.”

Lynette’s husband Jonathan Fenton, who was at home at the time of the incident, recounted the sequence of events when interviewed by the Outer Banks after the Oct. 3 meeting.

“I was inside looking out the window. I came out onto the porch,” he said. “He [the police officer] kept walking down [the driveway] and…the dogs are running up barking there at his feet, just barking and before I could do anything, his gun is already drawn. He’s firing shots into her head…and he shoots Sage.”

To the Fentons, Sage was a loving family pet. A registered therapy dog, Lynette said in her comments to Council. Jonathan Fenton told the Voice she was a therapy dog to help him with PTSD following the murder of his father in 2010.

In his interview, he described taking Sage to Avalon Pier in the summer and said her behavior indicated a well-socialized, friendly dog.

“She stands out there on the pier staring at the pigeons while tons of tourists walked by her,” he said. “They give her treats. Everybody knows her up there. She’s never been aggressive. Never. I’ve never had a complaint of her being aggressive,” he said.

However, a public record request submitted to the Kitty Hawk Town Clerk found there have been more than a dozen complaints about dogs the Fentons own running loose in the neighborhood dating back to 2014. Asked in an email about those complaints dating back eight years, Jonathan said he did not own Sage at that time. However, the two 2014 complaints provided to the Voice specifically state that a dog owned by the Fentons was roaming through the neighborhood.

As recently as March of this year, according to a police service report, an officer “…spoke with John Fenton about the dog running loose again…”

Additionally, Lynette Fenton was cited, according to the records provided by the town, at least three times in 2021 for a violation of section 4.2 of the towns dog ordinance, “Dogs in Public.”

In at least one of the 2021 citations, the police report was in response to a neighbor who “…stated he was pinned up against a vehicle in his father’s front yard by the dog. He stated the dog was very aggressive and would not let him leave the area or go inside.”

Jonathan, however, said all the 2021 charges against his wife regarding that case had been dismissed by the court. The Voice was unable to independently verify that information.

Because there is an internal investigation, the town says it is limited in how much information it can provide. As a result, Chief Johnson said he could not confirm if the officer’s body camera was turned on, although he was able to confirm the officer did seek medical attention after the incident.

“He was bitten multiple times,” Johnson said. But he stated that HPPA regulations prohibit giving the location of the officer’s treatment.


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Comments

  • J T

    Maybe next time the Fentons will spend the same amount of time training their dog as they spend on facebook claiming nothing is ever their fault.

    Sunday, Oct 9 @ 6:42 pm
  • more.ron

    What’s the old saying? There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. The Fentons sound like bad owners.

    Sunday, Oct 9 @ 7:01 pm
  • Nosey OBXer

    Sage was protecting her own yard and was wrongfully shot period . It would be a different situation if she was viciously roaming the streets and shot by the policeman.
    BTW, we have Dare County animal control for these issues.
    The Fenton’s neighbors sound like a bunch of haters.
    Shame on some of the commenters accusations here.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 12:35 am
  • Michael

    Families hurting financially. Too many children being sent to foster care and children s homes. Children with cancer in hospitals. Let’s focus on those issues. Look we are to hard on the officers that try to protect us. Also I’m always sad to see anyone lose a family pet, but it’s amazing what we put our focus on. This is going on way to long.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 5:06 am
  • KS

    The report stated “Lynette Fenton declared the officer was challenged by Sage because he did not say who he was, or why he was there and had simply walked up the driveway.” I’m sure the dog would have stopped if the officer would have told the dog who he was and why he was there. Ridiculous statement. He got bit. End of story.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 9:35 am
  • Kit

    Intresting!? Smith St isn’t off Eckner St. and the officer was bitten on the rear leg? ( Thank goodness his foreleg wasn’t hurt!) There seems to be a certain curious odor here…

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 10:35 am
  • Deez Nutz

    Lots of hearsay and misinformation going around, just like every other event in news. The truth will come out.

    I understand both sides, right to defend self, and I understand the dogs right to defend it’s home. Even if the dog doesn’t need to but thinks it does. The notion that announcing himself as a cop would stop the dog is just silly though. I’m also sure there are other ways to get a dog to back off before resorting to shooting it though.

    Also the way y’all are terrified of pit bulls is sad. Any dog can be bad and any dog can be mean. Just because your 5lb dog can barely draw blood if it bites doesn’t mean that it’s vicious behavior is acceptable either.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 11:01 am
  • Porky

    Buck C., someone doesn’t have to be a “dog expert” to post about a truthful and legitimate recent tragedy with the same type dog.

    The main issue here people seem to be forgetting is this all started because the dogs were supposedly running loose for the umpteenth time. Would it had been a legitimate issue if while the dangerous dog was roaming had it killed or maimed someone before going back home?

    Keep your mutts on their own property, end of story!

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 12:06 pm
  • Travis

    Aaahhh…the old HIPAA shield (and it is HIPAA, not HPPA as noted by Chief Johnson).

    Well, HIPAA is a bit of a complicated beast but it doesn’t cover nearly as much as many people suspect. It certainly doesn’t cover some very basic, verifiable information that could be released to help clear up what transpired here. Read any old article you please here at the Voice where someone has been hurt in an accident, rescued by the Coast Guard or otherwise become a news story because of trauma. Most of the time there’ll be a line about “victim was transported to Outer Banks hospital for blah blah blah,” or “victim was flown to Norfolk General for blah blah blah.”

    So the Chief is being disingenuous with his comment that HIPPA prevents him from saying ANYTHING about how his officer was hurt and what medical center he sought treatment at. And, not to be callous, but it would seem to me that a single photo of some teeth marks in the officer’s boot or calf would go a long way to supporting the cop’s version of events. The boot isn’t covered by HIPPA, right?

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 2:37 pm
  • Rob

    Drama Alert! I hope the town supports the officer in this. Seems like this family doesn’t think the laws apply to them and their dogs. No one deserves to get bitten by a dog running at large.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 5:55 pm
  • Lemonshirt

    I’m reminded of a controversy in a nearby county several years ago. A land owner was complaining about hunting dogs running thru his property even though he had clearly posted NO HUNTING signs. The dog owner’s response: “My dogs cant read”.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 6:36 pm
  • Freenusa

    Hey Nosey OBXer, Are you sure there is a “Dare County animal control”?

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 7:24 pm
  • C A

    So sorry to hear of the loss of these people’s pet. Sorry for the position this police officer found himself in, and his injuries.

    I’m very sorry for our community as reasoning, and compassion slip further from view.

    We’re becoming militant, possessive, an unyielding. I’m really sorry about this.

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 7:26 pm
  • Gail

    This was not a job for police to handle. Kill Devil Hills has an animal control unit and I’m sure they have a K-9 unit. A k-9 unit officer could have been summoned if an animal control was
    not available. This whole situation could have been handled more effectively with a better outcome for the police officer, the dog and the community. Sadly this animal was not only a family member but was also a support animal. It’s sad for the family and the officer. I understand the need to protect the community however at the time of the dogs shooting he was in his home and consider the police the invader. I feel for this family and his gentleman who lost his support animal. Support animals are sometimes crucial for physical and emotional support. I hope this family did not have children who watched this happen. It was a very cruel way to handle this situation .

    Monday, Oct 10 @ 7:32 pm
  • Toe Jauber

    Tragic, but it boils down to this – if the property and dog owners followed the law, and kept their dog restrained on their own property (as they knew was the law, and continued to willfully ignore) the police would have never been called out there that day.

    Tuesday, Oct 11 @ 12:17 pm
  • GT705

    Posted an hour ago on Facebook by the Kitty Hawk Police Department:

    For Immediate Release
    October 11, 2022
    Internal Investigation Summary:
    The Town of Kitty Hawk Police Department has completed the Internal Investigation of the shooting of a dog by a Kitty Hawk Police Officer on Saturday, October 1, 2022 at 4010 Smith Street. This investigation, while not required by North Carolina Law, was initiated by the Town to gather the facts related to the 911 call, gain a full understanding of what occurred and to determine if use of force was justified by the Officer.
    Summary of Investigative Findings:
    The Officer responded to an urgent 911 call to Smith Street for a dog running at large and being aggressive towards children. Upon arriving to Smith Street, the Officer was informed that the aggressive dog was no longer on the resident’s property. After gathering information from the complainant, the Officer determined that Kitty Hawk Town Ordinance 4.2 was violated.
    Sec. 4-2. – Dogs in public.
    Dogs kept on private property must be restrained in such a manner as to prevent entry onto public property or the premises of another.
    The Officer then attempted to contact the owner at his residence to ensure the dog was no longer a threat to the resident and their children. Upon walking down the driveway, the dog came out from under the house. The Officer began backing away, but the dog continued forward in an aggressive manner, biting the officer multiple times. The Officer then discharged his firearm to stop the attack in fear of injury to himself, resulting in the dog’s death. The Officer backed away from the scene, called for backup, and contacted a supervisor.
    There is no body camera footage of the incident as the Officer had it on a charging port to download previous footage and left it at the Police Station in his haste to answer the call. The officer’s account of the event is corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses to the incident and body camera footage from other responding Officers. There is also security camera footage of the dog acting aggressively towards children.
    While also not a requirement, the internal investigation information was presented to and reviewed by the 1st Prosecutorial District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney reviewing the case stated that while the shooting of any animal is unfortunate, the actions of the Officer, under these circumstances, were warranted and justified. The District Attorney’s Office recommended that any investigation into the criminal action of the Officer in this incident should be closed.
    The Kitty Hawk Police Department has responded to the 4010 Smith Street address for calls regarding aggressive dogs at large on 14 different occasions. Officers have issued several enforcement actions to include verbal warnings, written warnings, and state citations. Even after this incident, complaints continue to come in about the same owner’s other dog running at large and intimidating neighbors.
    While this is a very difficult and unfortunate event in the community, the Town remains committed to the safety of the community and our officers. The Town is confident in the integrity of the internal investigation and stands behind this investigation.

    Tuesday, Oct 11 @ 12:29 pm