ST. PAUL – Camille Perry says she was getting ready for work Wednesday morning when she saw her front door fling open and a police SWAT team member shoot the family’s two dogs.
Perry, who is eight months pregnant, ran to her two children who had been sleeping nearby and threw herself over them to protect them.
“The whole time all I could scream was, ‘Stop shooting, stop shooting!’” Perry said Thursday.
The two pit bulls were killed. “An officer believed they were acting in an aggressive manner,” said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a St. Paul police spokesman. “He thought he’d be bit or the dogs would bite one of the team members.”
Perry and her fiance, Larry L. Arman, say the dogs had been sleeping by the front door and did nothing more than bark when police used a ram to break down the door of their St. Paul home to execute a search warrant.
The warrant wasn’t publicly available in court as of Thursday. Perry and Arman said it indicated police were looking for marijuana, drug packaging, weighing equipment, guns, computers and more. Police took only a bong, a grinder that may have had marijuana residue and some clothes, according to Arman. No one was arrested.
The warrant mentioned Arman, but not Perry, the couple said. Arman said he smokes marijuana recreationally, but he doesn’t sell it.
Minneapolis police had obtained the search warrant and they executed it with the assistance of the St. Paul police SWAT team, Paulos said.
John Elder, a Minneapolis police spokesman, said because of the ongoing investigation he couldn’t answer a reporter’s questions about the nature of the search warrant or what police found.
Perry and Arman said if police had knocked on the door of their house, they would have had no problem with opening the door and letting police search.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” Perry said, referring to herself and Arman as hard-working homeowners.
Police need to have probable cause to obtain search warrants; judges issue them. Police can seek permission to serve a warrant without knocking if they believe evidence might be destroyed or there is a concern about officer safety, among other reasons.
Police officers or investigators usually execute search warrants. St. Paul police use the department’s SWAT team to execute search warrants “very infrequently,” Police Chief Thomas Smith said previously.
“Just for them to be used means that there is a high probability of danger to other officers or units in the department and/or to the public, so it is scrutinized at a very high level,” Smith said in an interview last summer.
Last year, the St. Paul SWAT team was used 32 times for warrants, and six dogs were encountered with no injuries to the animals, Paulos said. This year, SWAT has been called out 23 times for warrants and they’ve encountered four dogs without incident, he said.
At about 7 a.m. Wednesday, Arman said he and his sons, ages 4 and 7, were sleeping on the first floor when police came in the home. Perry was getting ready for work nearby.
“The gunshots scared the living daylights out of me, and knowing that they were in such close range of the dog and where we were laying with my kids made it worse,” Perry said. “Our oldest dog actually ran back to protect us in front of the bed and they kept shooting her, even though we were laying right there.”
Perry and Arman estimated they were 2 to 3 feet from the dog named Laylo, who was 10 years old.
“If my dog would have ran a little closer to me, that bullet could have went through the dog and hit me,” Arman said.
Dave Titus, St. Paul Police Federation president, said he was told the family was not in danger and the dogs were “an immediate threat to officers.”
Paulos said that before police fire a gun, they “look at the backdrop, they look at the security and safety of the situation. If they felt for any reason they were going to put that family in danger, I do believe they would have taken the dog bite themselves. They would not fire knowing the round could possibly go through and strike a child or the occupants of the home.”
Police always review cases when an officer uses his or her gun, Paulos said.
The officer fired six shots at the dogs, Perry and Arman said. Their other dog, Mellow, was 5 years old.
Nicole Miller said she heard the shots from inside her home next door. Later, Arman and Perry’s 4-year-old son asked Miller, “Did you see all the soldiers?,” she said of the SWAT officers.
Miller described Laylo and Mellow as good dogs. “I would sit out here every morning and have my coffee and Mellow and Laylo would run up and show me so much love,” she said. “They wouldn’t hurt a fly, they’d lick you to death.”
St. Paul Animal Control had several calls between 2006 and 2010 involving Arman and his dogs, primarily reports of their running at large, said Robert Humphrey, Department of Safety and Inspections spokesman. He did not see reports of Laylo or Mellow biting people.
Perry doesn’t have a criminal record, Minnesota court records show. Arman last got out of prison a decade ago for a felony assault conviction. He had earlier convictions for drug possession and possession of a pistol by a felon. He was convicted of misdemeanor DWI in 2011.
The couple speculated that police may have been suspicious of Arman because of his past. They also wonder if the business they started earlier this year, Arman Topkick Towing, drew police attention because it has people coming and going from their home. In addition to towing, they buy old cars, fix them up and sell them, the couple said.
The couple said they were left with a house full of damage. Police tossed the house during the search, including tearing out insulation from a wall and pulling out vents, Perry said. Police broke their screen door and front door, and Arman said he had to replace both of them.
The couple have an attorney, and said they’re planning to sue police.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.