Like many of you, we have been following the tragedy of Bear-Bear, the Siberian Husky who was shot and killed on Monday August 2, 2010 in the community of Quail Run - a sub-division of Severn, Maryland. Hearing about a meeting to show support for the family, we felt compelled to attend. After the meeting at the park where Bear-Bear lost his life, we caught up the the Rettaliata's and asked them if they would be willing to talk to us and address some difficult questions about the incident. They agreed - what follows is the story of Bear-Bear and how his life was tragically cut short in an instant.
The officer who killed Bear-Bear was not available for comment.
August 5, 2010
When asked why they brought their dog to the Quail Run Dog park, the Rettaliatas said that prior to moving to the community nearly a year ago, they had lived in an apartment. The allure of the community dog park just made them want to live here even more so. It would enable their dogs could get proper exercise, provide an opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and enjoy themselves in a safe and secure fenced in area. Rachel sadly recounted that “... I think it was Bear-Bear’s favorite place, so I think that’s what is really tragic” about the incident.
While not an “official” Anne Arundel County Dog Park, the Quail Run Dog park is privately owned, and considered a “dog run”. All of the residents who bring their dogs to the park allow their dogs to run off-leash in the run. There is reason for this - - experienced dog owners know that, generally, leashed dogs are more protective and aggressive when approached by other, unrestrained, animals.
Ryan recounted one of many occasions in which there where at least 15 dogs, including Bear-Bear, inside the run, playing, chasing, and having fun with no incidents or issues. He further stated that his neighbor’s small child would regularly run up to Bear-Bear outside of the dog park, jump on him and hug him. After the incident, they were told that no report would be filed by Anne Arundel County Animal Control, as neither of the dogs had received bite wounds, or scratches, and that no humans had been bitten or injured.
Stephen Kurinij, brother to Rachel, was at the park with Bear-Bear at the time of the shooting. Stephen regularly brought Bear-Bear to the park and was a regular at the nightly 6:30pm gathering of dog owners. Stephen told us that he was already in the fenced dog park with an unleashed Bear-Bear when a couple with their leashed German Shepherd approached the dog park. The couple asked if Bear-Bear was friendly, to which Stephen replied that he was, and the couple stated that their dog, Asia, was also friendly and entered the fenced in area, with Asia still on the leash. Stephen was approximately 7 feet away from the couple, and saw Bear-Bear running up to greet the new dog in the enclosure and initiated play. He said that the rough-housing, which was common and expected in Stephen’s experience at the dog part escalated quickly, with both dogs rearing up on their hind legs. Stephen said that he felt the wife panicked as Asia, the couple’s German Shepherd, began tugging her as she held on to the leash.
It was at this point, the man, yelled at Stephen to “go get your dog, break them up”, and as Stephen processed that information, then began to retrieve Bear-Bear, the man took two steps back, drew out a Glock 17 9mm pistol, aimed, and shot Bear-Bear. It was only after the man called 911 that he inform Stephen of his status as an off-duty Federal Police Officer. Stephen refutes the shooter’s claim that the he had tried to break up the “fight” and was subsequently attacked by Bear-Bear prior to the actual shooting.
While it is not uncommon for two parties to dispute the facts of any legal incident - it is important to note that the officers report clearly states that there were no other witnesses to the event. To the knowledge of the Rettaliata’s and their neighbors to whom we spoke - the investigating officers apparently failed to check any of the homes which border on three sides of the park to determine if anyone else had seen the event. However, after only a few short minutes ABC2 News was able to discover an eye-witness who, in a video interview, corroborated Stephen’s side of the story - that the officer did not attempt to break up the dogs before drawing his weapon and firing.
The family later learned from other residents that it was apparently the off-duty officer’s first time at the park. According to other residents it was the officer’s wife who typically brought the shepherd to the park alone, and always on leash, as it seemed skittish - that the off-duty officer, her husband, had not accompanied her in the past.
Once the Anne Arundel County Police and Animal Control arrived, Stephen informed the officers that Bear-Bear was not his dog, and he was instructed by the police to retrieve Bear-Bear’s owner. A member of Animal Control also told Stephen that if the dog wasn’t taken to a vet for treatment, he (Stephen) would be charged with animal cruelty ... as Stephen rushed home to get Ryan, leaving Bear-Bear alone in the run, bleeding, both the police and Animal Control remained outside the fenced in area.
When Ryan arrived and rushed to attend to his wounded pet, an Anne Arundel County Police Officer instructed Ryan to stop. Ryan, visibly upset, insisted several times that he wanted to go to his wounded dog, at which point an Anne Arundel County officer reportedly pulled and pointed a taser at Ryan’s chest and ordered him to stop. Ryan knew that if he was tased, he would not be able to help Bear-Bear, so he complied, at which point the officer lowered the taser and told Ryan to go to his dog, but not to move him.
When Ryan approached Bear-Bear, his dog rolled onto his back as he always did to receive belly scratches, the same officer that pulled the taser yelled to Ryan that he was told not to move his dog. While Animal Control and Ryan moved Bear-Bear onto a stretcher, the County police officers were talking to the now identified Off-duty Federal Officer and his wife and were also petting the German Shepherd.
The family is not sure of what procedures were followed, or not followed in regard to the off-duty officer firing his weapon. Newly passed legislation HR-218 (also known as the “Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act”) allows off-duty officers to carry weapons under certain conditions. However, a number of questions remain unanswered:
- Under this legislation, are off-duty officers required to identify themselves prior to taking any lethal action?
- Are officers who are involved in off-duty shootings required to undergo blood alcohol and drug testing?
- Following a such a shooting, is the firearm in question confiscated until the investigation ends?
- Wouldn’t it be standard procedure to suspend or place such an officer on suspended leave until the investigation was over?
- Whether HR 218 (which specifically states that it does not supersede state laws which prohibit the carrying of off-duty weapons to certain locations including public parks) even applies in this case.
- How are citizens who are obviously not allowed to carry weapons into dog parks expected to react in such situations - and why didn’t the off-duty officer respond in that way?
Ryan transported Bear-Bear to the Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic, where veterinarians subsequently performed exploratory surgery to determine the severity of Bear-Bear’s wounds. The officer had fired on 9mm HydraShok round into Bear-Bear's abdomen.
A HydraShok is similar to a hollow-point round, except that the tip of the round is sliced during manufacturing so that when it is used - the round not only spreads out to a much wider width than the tip of the round, but actually peals open into a star-like shape, or shatters completely sending fragments through the target’s body. It is designed to inflict maximum damage, and that is exactly what it did to Bear-Bear.
One round from the off-duty officer’s personal weapon resulted in a ruptured colon and kidney, it completely severed the pancreas, and perforated Bear-Bear’s intestines five times. Severe blood loss would require many blood transfusions, and there was doubt that the pancreas could successfully be reconnected.
Some readers to the many articles covering this incident have speculated that the dog could have been saved, but money was an issue:
“... we would have spent more...” Rachel said. “... they did exploratory because they said if they had gone in, there might not be a chance, but if [the] exploratory surgery [revealed] there might be a chance, we would have paid... we would have paid $10,000. I would have never gone back to school, I would have taken a second job, and we would have done all of the physical therapy possible. I could never have lived with myself if we had just said it was too much money.” Ryan added that they just couldn’t go home not knowing they hadn’t given Bear-Bear every chance to survive. “It took a $1.00 bullet to rip all of this away from us.” Ryan added sadly.
With his survival at a minimum, the family was allowed just a few minutes alone with Bear-Bear. A few last moments to convey their love and grief for a dog who’s life started so horribly; whose future looked so bright thanks to a rescue organization and subsequent adoption by two young newlyweds; a life cut short after only 3 years in a split second of what appears to be a senseless act.
At 12:15 A.M on August 3, 2010, Bear-Bear’s suffering ended as the veterinarians put him to sleep, a little more than six hours after the shooting.
Tuesday morning, August 3, 2010, when the couple arrived at the Anne Arundel County Western District Headquarters - they encountered a vacant building and a red phone with poor reception. They just wanted some answers. What was being done? What was their recourse? Could they get a copy of the police report? Were they required to file charges? They found that a police report wouldn’t be available (standard procedure) for 3-4 days, but that the case had already been closed. When they asked to speak to someone in person, they were told that officers at the scene were not on shift, but after insisting on speaking to an officer, one came out to speak with them. He informed them that the case was closed, and that their only other recourse was a civil charge. They were also told that Stephen was evasive during questioning. “I actually have neighbors telling me that when they were watching them talk to Stephen, it looked like they were interrogating him, they weren’t even talking to him like a human being...” Ryan said.
Rachel, and her brother Stephen, come from a law enforcement family. Their Grandfather was a Baltimore City Homicide Detective, and from a young age they were “raised with the utmost respect for police officers, fire fighters, anyone that gives to civil service” according to Rachel. “... but there’s always going to be a bad apple, so this is just about bringing out [the fact] that he can’t hide behind a badge, that he did wrong and its not ok.”
“From what I’ve heard, when he identified himself as a Federal Officer, they absolutely went with the assumption that the HR 218 Act, which allows all Federal officers carry arms across the United States, they thought he fell under that jurisdiction...” Ryan responded when asked why he felt the county closed the case so quickly. “... so they didn’t bother to investigate, because alright, that’s your word, great.” He further feels that this on-the-scene determination ruined their chance to accurately investigate. “They didn’t even know there were witnesses. There were a couple of kids sitting on this green box...” he points to a small green utility box on the edge of the park “... and one kid on a bicycle that a TV station found” who corroborates Stephen’s story. “... it amazed me that how could you not go to these houses and ask if anyone was looking out their window, was anyone in their backyard, no one was walking through?” Rachel stated incredulously. “Yes, Stephen, Bear-Bear and this German Shepherd were alone in this park, but look at it now, there’s people everywhere, driving and walking their dogs.”
Prompted by their parents, Rachel called the news desk at WBAL and the Baltimore Sun. “The Baltimore Sun has been vastly instrumental in getting this whole thing out there” Ryan said thankful for their assistance in spreading the word. Once word spread from the Sun article, the family then appeared on WBAL Radio with C4 and other local media outlets. Word also spread when a post from a member of Tails of the Tundra cross-posted the article on Facebook and ignited a fire of angry dog owners. Two Facebook groups; “Justice for Bear Bear”, and the similarly named “Justice for Bear-Bear” were started. Combined the pages now have thousands of international members, and membership continues to grow daily.
The family is overwhelmed and thankful for all of the support they have received, stating that it gives them the strength to continue.
The public outcry reached the office of John Leopold, Anne Arundel County Executive, - himself a dog owner - on Wednesday morning and he demanded the case be re-opened and thoroughly investigated. Within hours of that announcement, the Anne Arundel County Police Chief released a statement that the investigation was ongoing. The National Humane Society is now working with the Anne Arundel Police Department to investigate the matter. The family reached out to PETA, but their automated voicemail states that they do not become involved in matters of police involved shootings because it is far too common.
Later that evening the Fort Meyer Police Department. where off-duty officer who shot Bear-Bear is employed, issued a press release. In that release the FMPD stated that the officer had been on annual vacation during the incident, and that he had been cleared of any wrong doing by the Anne Arundel County Police Department who had jurisdiction over the incident - and that the officer was returning to work the following day (Thursday).
When asked how this matter would have been handled if the shooter had been a civilian, the family stated they were convinced it would have been handled much differently. “They would have come out and confiscated the weapon, which they did not take his weapon, they probably would have taken him to jail, they probably would have given him a breathalyzer... there were a lot of things that would have been handled differently had it been civilian-based.” said Ryan. “And we probably would have been treated, or at least my brother, as victims rather than someone that needed to be interrogated.” added Rachel
It should be noted that it is unknown whether or not the off-duty officer who shot Bear-Bear was tested for drugs or alcohol, but that a standard checkbox on the police report (which is now publicly available online) indicates there was no drug or alcohol use involved in the incident.
As to readers comments that charge the Rettaliata’s are using this incident as a catalyst for financial gain through a public lawsuit of the officer or his department the family again strongly disagrees. Breaking down into tears, Rachel stated that “... financial gain will never bring Bear-Bear back, no amount of money will ever bring him back to us ... its about claiming responsibility.” They feel strongly that Bear-Bear deserves a fair investigation, the officer needs to face up the split-decision that he made on Monday night - a decision that left a beloved family member dead. They feel that he doesn’t deserve to carry a weapon or be relied upon to serve on a police force, whose purpose is to protect and serve the people.
The community also expressed a lot of concern for their safety with the off-duty officer in the area. Residents were shocked by their new neighbor after the shooting, stating that he and his wife were yelling at them saying things like “what would you do if you dog were attacked” and “you didn’t see anything”. They also state that he was strutting around acting like a hero.
Some residents are now hesitant to come back to the park knowing that the off-duty officer lives in the area. “Its not the place it was anymore, it won’t be for a long time...” Rachel said sadly, “... but it is a safe place, not everyone runs to the dog park with guns on their hips...” Ryan added that the dog park is the community meeting place for dog owners, reminiscing how his dog played joyfully with the other dogs and even children, citing how his neighbor’s 2-year old child “... just runs up to my dog and jumps on his neck and hugs him, so ... bringing him down here was a very safe situation for us, and I would really, it would break my heart if people stopped showing up and that part of the community stopped to exist... that would be a travesty.”
their dogs, children, flowers, and signs to show their support and condolences for Bear-Bear. Three local law enforcement officers stood at a respectful distance from the gathering. Local media had earlier reported a “police presence” for the event, as it was expected to be a very emotionally charged gathering. Those fears however were ill-formed, participants simply gathered near the fenced in dog run and talked amongst themselves and comforted the Rettaliata family despite the continued rain.
At one point, Ryan strode across the park and shook the hands of each of the three officers - thanking them for coming.
Most of the participants were regular visitors to the many Maryland dog parks,
A representative from the County Executive's office reiterated Mr. Leopold's promise of a full and thorough investigation of the matter.
At one point, Ryan was asked to identify the shooter. His response was to emphasize that due to high tension and comments made online, he would not release the man's name, adding that we all needed to allow the justice system to run it's proper course. Retaliation against the man or his dog isn't an acceptable option or a solution Ryan stated.
Behind the Rettaliata’s, in the dog run where Bear-Bear had been shot, a dog stopped and sniffed at the spot where Bear spent his final moments in the dog park he loved as the rain slowly came to an end and rainbow appeared in the distance.