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The dog was ‘protecting her’ when it charged a Bellingham cop; he protected himself

Body cam video shows Bellingham police officer shooting dog

The Bellingham Police Department released this video of Officer Andrew Wassel shooting a dog during a theft investigation on Oct. 12, 2017. A police review board determined that Wassel followed department policy and was justified when he intention
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The Bellingham Police Department released this video of Officer Andrew Wassel shooting a dog during a theft investigation on Oct. 12, 2017. A police review board determined that Wassel followed department policy and was justified when he intention

A Bellingham Police officer has been cleared in the deadly shooting of a dog during an October theft investigation in the Puget neighborhood.

Officer Andrew Wassel shot the dog, an 80-pound female German shepherd/Siberian husky mix, when it advanced toward him outside an apartment in the 1300 block of Orleans Street, just south of Civic Stadium, police officials said.

Officer Clark Bourgault also was at the scene, and both officers’ testimony and the officers’ body camera video released to the public, in addition to witness statements, support Wassel’s statement that he shot the dog because he thought it was going to attack, Lt. Danette Beckley said Wednesday in a news release.

“The owner stated that her dog was ‘protecting her’ when it ran toward Officer Wassel,” Beckley said in the release. “The owner and Officer Wassel both described the dog as having the hair (or fur) on its back standing up, baring its teeth, while barking and growling as it charged toward Officer Wassel.”

Wassel fired a single shot at close range, killing the dog. It can be heard whimpering on the video footage just before the video feed is interrupted.

Beckley said the incident began as Wassel and Bourgault went to the Orleans Street apartment about 6 p.m. Oct. 12 to question the residents as part of a follow-up investigation into a theft at a nearby convenience store.

Details of that theft and the residents’ names were not released.

When the officers arrived at the scene, Bourgault knocked on the front door as Wassel covered the back entrance, Beckley said. As a man answered the front door, a woman hurried out the back door of the apartment and walked quickly toward the Civic Stadium parking lot, ignoring Wassel’s calls, Beckley said.

Bourgault’s body camera shows the man at the front door saying that the dog is friendly. A dog is heard barking, and the sound of a gunshot follows. Bourgault’s video shows him running toward the rear of the apartment to check on Wassel, who is standing near the dead dog.

“While Officer Wassel is attempting to contact the female, the dog turns and begins charging toward him,” Beckley said. “The dog takes an aggressive stance, barks, growls, and bares its teeth at the officer. Officer Wassel begins moving backward to create distance between himself and the dog. The dog continues aggressively charging at Officer Wassel. Based on his reasonable belief that the dog was about to attack him, Officer Wassel draws his service weapon and fires one round to stop the dog from attacking him.”

Part of the video is a split screen, showing both Wassel’s and Bourgault’s perspectives in real time. Only a few seconds elapse from Wassel’s view as the dog advances toward him.

Beckley said a formal review is required every time officers fire their service weapons, adding the department’s review board decided Wassel acted appropriately and according to his training.

No disciplinary action was taken on Wassel and no additional training was required, Beckley said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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