Heyburn Police officer receives no charges for controversial fatal dog shooting

Heyburn Police officer receives no charges for controversial fatal dog shooting

HEYBURN — The investigation into a fatal dog shooting in May will result in no charges to a police officer, who was accused of not taking steps to rescue animals on the highway.

The Heyburn Police Department held a press conference on August 11 to announce the results of the investigation and address questions. The Jerome Police Department conducted the investigation, which was also independently reviewed by the Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs.

“Even though the officer was justified in his actions, as a city – as a police department – are going to continue to find other ways as far as how we can improve, and look for how we can always best serve our community,” said Heyburn Police Chief Ryan Bertalotto. Standing next to him was Heyburn Mayor Dick Galbraith.

RELATED | Officer shoots 2 dogs running loose on Idaho highway, and now a witness is calling for his removal

While the names of all the people involved were redacted in the report to protect privacy, the officer’s name had already been published. The officer is Ririe Thomand, who has been an officer in the department for eight years. He was briefly removed from active duty during the investigation, but has since returned to work.

There were two allegations made against Thomand, the first being that he violated Idaho code and committed cruelty to animals and the second being that he violated the city of Heyburn Personnel Policy and Police Department Policy regarding use of force. He has been cleared of these allegations.

Witnesses interviewed, including other officers at the scene and third party witnesses, said the shooting occurred because they feared for the safety of those driving or their own safety.

The incident took place on May 27 at around 5:50 p.m. when officers were dispatched to assist with two loose dogs that were wandering in the eastbound lanes on Interstate 84. A traffic jam had formed on the highway and the officer feared that the dogs posed a danger to commuters.

Bertalotto said while officers made attempts to approach the dogs, the animals were “spooked” and officers were not able to catch them.

Law enforcement blocked off eastbound traffic and the officer shot the two dogs a single time with his rifle as they traveled on the south side of the eastbound lanes.

In his summary of the report, Loebs said that while the incident seemed to satisfy Idaho’s definition of cruelty, “the context of this situation and the statutory exemption under which the officer acted make it impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime.”

This is because several exceptions exist in the statute, including if the animal is “found outside of the owned or rented property of the owner” or if the animal is “posing a threat to any person, farm animal or property.”

Bertalotto said the department has made efforts to improve training and equipment to better deal with any future instances like this. He said they’ve been able to upgrade their equipment so every officer has a catch pole and two dog leashes.

“We’re having internal discussions on animal control – what can we do differently as a city? And how can we improve animal control for the city of Heyburn as a whole?” Bertalotto said.

He said officers have trained with the use of their catch poles, and they’re looking for further training opportunities with animals. They’ve also had conversations with Axon Enterprise, the parent company of Taser, about when it is and isn’t appropriate to use tasers on animals.

Bertalotto said he understands many people in the community are upset by this incident.

“I can understand the reason why they’re upset. I’m a dog owner, the officer who shot the dogs is a dog owner and it hit both of us hard emotionally,” Bertalotto said.

He said they’ve taken this incident and have looked to improve the department, saying there was another incident with a dog loose on the interstate, “and that dog was able to be reunited with his owner.”

“I believe as a city and as a police department, we are always striving to improve and find out how we can do better,” Bertalotto said.

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