Willy Pete, the Mason County dog shot by a State Police trooper in late June, was the 15th dog troopers have killed in the last four years — and the third dog that Sgt. S.T. Harper has killed in that span, according to police records.
Almost all of those dogs, 13 of 15, were pit bulls that were acting aggressively, according to the State Police.
Another officer, Senior Trooper B.D. Gillespie, who recently was placed on a four-day leave after he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in an altercation, has killed two dogs this year.
Only one other officer in the State Police, a Sgt. Curran, has been involved in more than one dog killing in the last four years, according to police records.
“Based upon the facts, each of these members acted reasonably in order to protect themselves or others, including WVSP K-9 officers, from being attacked,” Lt. Michael Baylous, a State Police spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
Baylous said the number of dogs killed is low, considering the huge number of interactions that State Police troopers have with the public.
On June 24, Willy Pete was shot three times in front of his home as officers were conducting a nearby manhunt.
His owner, Ginger Sweat, told the Charleston Daily Mail that he was an arthritic beagle-Bassett hound mix, and that the dog was retreating and she was running to get him when Harper shot the dog.
The State Police initially refused to comment on the incident but several days later released a lengthy statement telling a different story. The State Police apologized for shooting Willy Pete but stood by the decision to shoot him.
The police statement said Sweat retrieved a smaller dog, but that another larger dog, Willy Pete, then advanced aggressively. The police said Harper tried to separate Willy Pete from his K-9 officer but could not, and shot him three times when he came within five feet.
Harper has been part of the State Police K-9 Unit for 14 years and has been a K-9 instructor for the last two years.
The Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all use-of-force forms related to dogs killed in the last 15 years.
The State Police said it maintains records only for the past four years. It provided summaries of all incidents involving killed dogs for the past four years but did not provide the use-of-force forms themselves.