A Missouri family is suing the Stoddard County Sheriff’s Office for killing their dog, Parker, after he escaped the home during a storm
When Parker, a 9-year-old black Labrador mix, ambled onto Hillary Mayberry’s property, lost in a summer storm, the Missouri woman tried frantically to find the dog's owner.
Snapping photographs of the dog laying on her porch, she posted the pictures to Facebook, asking “Does anyone recognize this dog?” Then she called the Stoddard County Sheriff's Office to help find the owners.
But what happened next that August day shocked Mayberry and many others in the rural community.
After deputy Roger Seal picked up Parker, he allegedly drove him to the Otter Slough Conservation Area and shot him with his service pistol at the direction of his supervising officer, Corporal Travis Maddox, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week and obtained by PEOPLE.
Although Parker’s family — Bryan and Tylla Pennington and their four children, who are all listed as plaintiffs in the suit — responded within 30 minutes of the Mayberry's Facebook post, they were already too late, their lawyer, Russ Oliver, tells PEOPLE.
Wounded and wailing, Parker “did not immediately die,” according to the lawsuit filed by the aggrieved family. Over the next “agonizing eight minutes of suffering,” the suit alleges that Parker withstood Seal dragging him across the dirt. Then, Seal shot him again and discarded “Parker’s lifeless body in a ditch.”
The lawsuit filed against Stoddard County Sheriff Carl Hefner and the deputies (Maddox has since been demoted) alleges that the officers violated the family’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they unlawfully seized and killed Parker.
“The point of the lawsuit is to make sure that people that we have invested with the power to enforce our laws aren’t breaking those laws by taking a family’s dog, executing it, throwing its body in a ditch — and using taxpayer dollars to do it,” Oliver tells PEOPLE.
The Penningtons are requesting a jury trial and seeking $5 million in damages, according to the suit.
In a letter that the sheriff's office posted to their Facebook account in September, Heffner said “the deputy who responded to this call did not act appropriately during the performance of his duties.” He fired Seal, and, according to the letter, demoted the supervising corporal and placed him on unpaid administrative leave.
But, Oliver — who served as the elected prosecutor of Stoddard County for 12 years until 2022 — says the sheriff hasn’t gone far enough, and alleges that the shooting of lost dogs has become “common practice” at the office.
“We believe that this is not an isolated incident,” Oliver tells PEOPLE.
As part of his investigation, Oliver has separately filed a sunshine lawsuit to obtain “body camera footage of the murder of Parker” from the sheriff's office, according to the petition obtained by PEOPLE.
The sheriff’s office has not turned over the footage, Oliver says, adding that the office has claimed that the case is still under investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
But in a September letter addressed to Sheriff Heffner, Colonel Eric T. Olson of the highway patrol declined to investigate the case because the sheriff's office had already internally investigated and submitted the findings to prosecutors for potential criminal charges.
No criminal charges have been filed against the deputies, Oliver says.
“This situation exemplifies so much of my frustrations while I served as prosecutor in regard to the conduct of law enforcement, particularly the Stoddard County Sheriff's Office. This attitude — of arrogance and hubris, of acting with impunity and doing what they want — is now on steroids.”
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