Officer exonerated in fatal dog shooting

Officer exonerated in fatal dog shooting

Lorain police concluded its investigation into a fatal shooting of a loose dog July 2 in a residential neighborhood and exonerated Officer Elliot Palmer of wrongdoing, but found that he violated Lorain Police Department policy by not immediately activating his body worn camera as he stepped out of his cruiser to assist in corralling the animals.

Police released the findings and conclusion Sept. 7 during a news conference at Lorain City Hall.

Palmer was patrolling in the area of Oberlin Avenue and West 8th Street when he noticed the four dogs running at large, according to the 102-page investigative report.

Tammie Kerns and her daughter Mellenie Kerns were attempting to catch the animals as Palmer arrived at 710 Oberlin Ave., the report stated.

The dogs’ registered owner is Tammie Kerns’ husband, Wilbur Kerns, who also was at the scene, the report stated.

None of the dogs were wearing collars and the Kerns’ were attempting to restrain the pets by pulling their tails to keep them from running free, the report stated.

Mellenie Kerns was observed by Palmer to have a fresh wound on her arm and became concerned one of the dogs injured her as he arrived at the chaotic scene, the report stated.

One of the mixed breed dogs first approached Palmer as he instructed the Kerns to contain the dogs.

The first dog that approached Palmer was friendly toward him and showed no signs of aggression, according to the report.

“Meanwhile, as the females were attempting to corral the dogs, Officer Palmer observed one of the dogs to be hyper-focused on him,” the report stated.

At the news conference, Lorain Police Department Chief Jim McCann showed photographs as well as video on a large screen of the female dog named Dixie as she fixated her eyes on Palmer.

Dixie then charged Palmer who “attempted to sidestep out of the path of the dog and back up; however, the dog changed direction and continued to charge,” the report stated.

Palmer then shot Dixie four times and she died at the scene, according to the report.

Following the shooting, the owners of the dogs and multiple residents became unruly and began issuing threats at Palmer, who was instructed to leave the scene to calm the angry group of people after he called for assistance from other officers.

Acted responsibly

The investigative findings show Palmer was acting in a reasonable fashion due to the dog, which was deemed to be a threat.

Since then, Palmer has been on modified duty at the Police Department assigned to various areas which are short-staffed, McCann said as he fielded multiple questions from news reporters during the conference.

Palmer has a long history of pet-ownership and was attacked by a dog earlier this year while on duty bringing in a stray dog on a leash.

Due to the dog bite to Palmer’s hand, he was forced to take time off and was told by medical professionals he was in jeopardy of losing his hand due to the infection, McCann said.

In 2020, Palmer completed training by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in response to incidents involving companion animals, according to the report.

“Officer Palmer reported that based on his experience with animals, and his training, he reasonably believed that the dog was coming to attack him,” the report stated.

McCann also addressed the question of why a non lethal method wasn’t used to contain the dogs, instead of a firearm.

A stun gun wasn’t the appropriate choice in this instance because, often, they are difficult to accurately shoot the prongs into a person successfully, yet alone a running dog, McCann said.

“It’s impossible,” he said of successfully using a stun gun on a running dog.

McCann also touched on the negative aftermath that included death threats toward Palmer, which led to the city having to deactivate his email address.

Palmer’s family also received death threats, the report stated.

Feels regret

In the report, Palmer is quoted as an animal lover who owns not only dogs, but a horse as well.

Palmer told the investigators the thought of losing a family pet is terrible and that he could not imagine the amount of pain that the dog’s family is going through, the report stated.

“Officer Palmer expressed the entire situation is regrettable and he feels terrible for the dog’s family,” the report stated.

McCann said believes the public has been “blinded by emotion” based on their love for animals.

“I don’t expect them to get over it; they’re emotional,” he said. “I’m not sure if I could if I was in their shoes. I don’t know.”

But as far as the death threats, McCann said he is unmovable about allowing his officers to be threatened.

“Threats made to Officer Palmer in violation of Ohio law are currently under criminal investigation by OPS (Office of Professional Standards) and will be presented to the Lorain County grand jury for criminal indictment if there is a finding of probable cause at the conclusion of this investigation,” the report stated. “We’re not going to deal with the negative stuff; we’re going to move forward.”

McCann also pointed out in the report the negativity on social media as the situation was unfolding.

The Kerns family

The report details longtime issues with the Kerns’ having too many pets in their house as well as unhealthy living conditions, such as excessive trash, pet feces and urine.

At that time, there were more than 10 dogs living in the residence in addition to multiple cats and birds, the report stated.

In 2009, the situation led to the removal of children, ages 8 and 10 at that time, by Lorain County Children’s Service when Wilbur and Tammie Kerns were charged with child endangerment, according to the report.

Lorain police arrested the couple and Tammie Kerns was found guilty in the case, the report stated.

Tammie Kerns’ jail sentence was suspended by the judge on the condition of five years’ good behavior and ordered her to complete 50 hours of community service, the report stated.

Tammie Kerns retained custody of her children, attended mandated parenting classes and was ordered to keep her house clean, the report stated.

“The judge also ordered no excessive pets,” the report stated.

The city’s ordinance regarding pet ownership only allows for five pets per household with the exception of small animals such as birds, fish and others, the report noted.

Lorain County Humane Society

In 2017, the Kerns family came to attention of the Lorain County Humane Society regarding unhealthy living conditions at the residence again due to their animals, the report stated.

In 2020, the Lorain Building, Housing and Planning Department received a complaint on the Kerns’ residence regarding “noxious smells” pertaining to the then eight dogs in the residence, the report stated.

The Kerns residence came to the attention again April 24 of this year from the Lorain Building, Housing and Planning Department for property maintenance issues, the report stated.

Mayor Jack Bradley’s office also received complaints in May regarding how poor the dog’s living conditions were at the Kerns residence, the report stated.

A few days later, Tammie Kerns was cited by Lorain County Division of Environmental Health due to her residential porch which was “covered in rubbish, boxes, bins, human food and cat food which was providing harborage to the numerous flies that were observed to be congregating in the porch area,” the report noted.

On June 30, Kerns was sent a second letter regarding the conditions at the residence and the unhealthy condition not being abated, which remains pending, the report stated.

The Kerns family told Morning Journal reporter Lauren Hoffman on Sept. 7 they didn’t want to comment at this time.

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