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John Correia wants his dog back. He hasn’t seen the dog, a Labrador-pitbull mix named Moose, since the day the La Mesa police officer shot at the dog and missed.



“I raised him from a pup,” Correia said. “Moose is a lap dog; I mean, he wants to sit on your lap.”

That’s not the dog that a La Mesa cop saw on December 11th, however. He saw a pitbull charging and snarling. So he drew his gun and fired. The official statement at the scene to a roving, freelance news cameraman came from Lt. Brian Stoney, who described how Moose bit the officer twice before the officer fired.

With an officer-involved shooting investigation still underway, the police department is saying very little about what happened — the only information available comes from that TV footage. The police declined to provide a copy of the incident report to Correia (and to this reporter). We were referred to the business office, which has a ten business-day waiting period (two weeks).

The volunteer cop — a reserve officer with more than 30 years of free law-enforcement service donated to a city he doesn’t live in — on December 11th stopped to tell Correia he had to move a rolled-up rug and a chair out of the parking zone at the end of his driveway. He’d put them there with a “Free” sign. Correia said he was cleaning his garage and insists it wasn’t in the part of the street where cars are supposed to drive. The conversation turned loud, and then Moose appeared out of the side yard.

“I think he reacted to the stress in their voices,” says Laurie Ellertson, a friend who is trying to get Correia’s dog off death row. “He might have looked scary but he isn’t. He’s a big baby.”

But no one wants to see a big, broad dog charging.

Whatever was driving the dog, the dog ran up to the officer and the officer drew his weapon. For a few seconds, the officer yelled something like “stop your dog” and then he fired. Correia said he had already grabbed Moose by the collar and dragged him into the yard once; he was sure the dog wasn’t hurt.

“I had some of the ground spray up on me from the ricochet, little chips that burned,” he said.

Neighbors say they heard a lot of shouting that ended with a gunshot. They also told this reporter that there hadn’t been any problems with Correia’s dogs. Many hadn’t noticed the dogs at all. Police confirmed they’ve had no prior complaints about Moose.

After the shooting, police — who also serve as animal control in the city — swarmed the scene. Video shows half a dozen cops milling around, confirmed by Lt. Chad Bell.

“We have to account for every round,” he said. “A shooting brings out the lieutenants and the captains and the detectives.”

The twice-bitten officer declined medical treatment and ended up with abrasions, Bell said. Bell didn’t want to speak directly about the incident but said that officers don’t fire warning shots. “We don’t teach anybody to shoot at the ground,” he said.

An officer is allowed to shoot if he or she feels fear for your life or another person’s, or fear of being gravely hurt.

After the incident, the chief signed an order that Moose be put down — which is all it takes. There weren’t any evaluations of Moose before or after the order. The dog remains in custody at the El Cajon Animal Shelter, in a restricted area. Correia has not been allowed to see his dog.

One animal expert said that after so long in a restricted situation, without visitors or exercise or the other interactions that keep dogs healthy, it would be very difficult to determine what the dog was like normally.

Three years ago the San Diego County Grand Jury released a report recommending that a half dozen police departments across the county — including La Mesa, El Cajon, and Oceanside — get trained on dealing with dangerous and aggressive dogs.

Robbie Benson, the president of San Diego Animals Worthy of Life, has trained a number of officers at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies. She has said that pepper spray is remarkably effective for getting dogs to back off.

Before that, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report recommending specific training. The introduction states: “With the number of dog fatalities by law enforcement on the increase, as well as concerns for officer safety, law enforcement officers must advance beyond automatically using their weapons when encountered by a dog. There are many other ways to ensure public and officer safety through diffusing dog encounters.”

Bell said La Mesa does train officers through the police academy and with its own animal-control officer, Claudia Newmark, who is also a member of the police department. He doesn’t know if the reserve cop who shot at Moose (who was trained 30 years ago, before such training was even a thought) received the department's internal training in the past few years. Newmark did not respond to email or phone messages.

Meanwhile, the lone camera man showed up after Lt. Stoney directed an officer to take Correia into the house. Correia said he asked if the dog should come in, too, and was told no. Later he saw the press conference on the news, with Moose running along the fence barking, and he felt set up.

“That’s Moose reacting to a lot of stress — being shot at and me being stressed and then a bunch of strangers showing up and basically taking over our place,” he said. “But it sure looked bad on TV. I should have put him in the house.”

After the presser, the animal-control officer came and hauled Moose away, dropping him at the El Cajon Animal Shelter.

Correia feels particularly bad that he brought them the dog.

“Moose was shaking, he was so scared, and I just made him go and get in their truck,” Correia said. “I was trying to comply and to not get him hurt, but later I realized I handed him over to die.”

Police told Correia that they would keep the dog for a couple of days in quarantine, he said. But Moose never came home and has been on death row in the no-kill shelter ever since.

No one has formally evaluated his temperament, staff said and Stoney confirmed.

Correia and Ellertson started trying to get Moose back and found out the plan was to euthanize him.

“We were told it would be a few days in quarantine, and then they wouldn’t give him back,” Ellertson said. “We got a notice in the mail and we still don’t have the incident report.”

Ellertson went to court to plead for Moose’s life — via a temporary restraining order against the shelter and La Mesa animal-control police officer. On February 2nd, they got it from a Superior Court judge.

Now they’re preparing to fight for his life and bring him home.

The hearing is set for February 23rd, but the City of La Mesa has not provided any documents, which lawsuit participants are required to share. They have indicated they will provide the documents to Ellertson the day before the hearing, on February 22nd.

Bell and Stoney declined to say whether there had been previous complaints about or previous shots-fired investigations concerning the officer, citing personnel privacy issues. It's not clear whether or not the city will provide that information before the hearing.

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AlexClarke Feb. 16, 2018 @ 7:27 a.m.

Pit bull/pit bull mixes are the dirt bags dog of choice.


jnojr Feb. 16, 2018 @ 11:27 a.m.

What an astoundingly ignorant thing to say. Idiotic opinions are the dirt bags words of choice.


Cassander Feb. 16, 2018 @ 11 a.m.

If the neighbors ever had a problem, or if the dog had a history, or if the "volunteer" officer was seriously injured, or if this incident happened without anything predictable triggering it, I could possibly see this reaction being justified.

But when none of that's the case, and the authorities stonewall and refuse not only to answer to the public but also to opposing counsel as required by law, that tells me they know this murky "volunteer" screwed up, yet insist on doubling down by punishing the victims over questioning their authority.

If La Mesa has anyone with any sense in charge, they'd reach an agreement to release the dog with prejudice. Otherwise, this "volunteer" could cost them a lot.


Wabbitsd Feb. 16, 2018 @ 3:29 p.m.

I am surprised to hear this officer was a volunteer for 30 years. Does that count the time he served as a resource officer at Helix High? Was he there at no cost?

"Newmark did not respond to email or phone messages." The same thing happens when La Mesa citizens try to contact her as well. The whole way La Mesa handles animal control stinks. If you were told the whole force acts as animal control officers, you got a different story than any local La Mesans have when they have had problems with neighbor's barking or aggressive dogs. We're all told to be patient, La Mesa only has one animal control officer.


AlexClarke Feb. 17, 2018 @ 7:26 a.m.

Yes La Mesa has only one ACO thus all officers have to fill in when the ACO is not available. It is the animal owners responsibility to maintain control of their animals


Wabbitsd Feb. 21, 2018 @ 3:30 p.m.

Interesting. Yet we are told to be patient since there is only one officer when we call.


LaurieE69 Feb. 19, 2018 @ 2:19 a.m.

And it's the departments responsibility to maintain control of their officers. Why do a lot of people have dogs? For protection right. This officer came onto the property for absurd reasons, got loud and aggressive and carelessly pulled his gun and fired, why? The dog was only doing what any dog would, protecting property and his owner. If the cop had been a bad guy instead the dog would be a hero! But because it was a cop the dog is dangerous and needs to die. What a heap of convoluted crap that is. Than they plain out lie about the officer getting bit. Sounds like they want to kill the dog to validate the officers story and firing of his weapon. No wonder the home owner feels set up and betrayed by the police, because he obviously was!! If they are allowed to kill this dog there is something very wrong with the system and we should all be very concerned. I personally think I will call the La Mesa police dept. and voice my shock and concern at their total disregard for the law. They should be ashamed of themselves, they need to return that dog to his owner and his home, apologize and hope they don't get sued. And that officer needs to go home and stay there he is the reason all this is happening, I wonder if he even cares or feels the slightest bit of remorse for his total stupidity and reckless behavior.


Meccanica Feb. 23, 2018 @ 11:17 a.m.

I love dogs, so this comment is difficult for me as I find myself on the side of the Police.

I live across the street from this seemingly drug house. Not only was this dog a menace, its owner is the worst neighbor I have ever experienced. He is constantly yelling across the street at the Daycare, at kids, at the neighbors. Often times he will come up with some sort of sleep deprived / drug inspired conspiracy theory about how the neighbors are walking on his roof (I can't make this up). When he gets mad at the neighbors he will set his car alarm off for hours at a time. I am a consultant and work from home, Imagine taking conference calls with a car alarm on for hours.

The police are called to his house weekly, including full raids, towing of stolen boats/vehicles parked out front. Specifically the dog, he has tried to attack my German Shepard, and tried to get out of the yard anytime we would walk by (aggressively). I talk to our postal carrier all the time, she prefers to walk her route, but was mandated to drive because of the dog and John.

It's hard to express here publicly how difficult it is living across from John. John alone has negatively impacted every home value on our block. I 100% believe the police that this dog came at them, and if they did not have to get called to his house weekly this dog would be fine.


martygraham619 May 9, 2018 @ 5:04 p.m.

I wish you had told me any of this when I rang your doorbell and talked with you. What you told me then was you'd never had an encounter with either the dog or the owner, but there was a lot of gossip going around. I didn't use the gossip because you couldn't tell me who was saying that, and you insisted it was someone else.

It seems pretty clear from what you've posted that you are the source. I hope next time you speak with a reporter you are honest.


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