Lawsuit filed in Missouri drug raid that killed dog

JEFFERSON CITY | A Columbia family is suing the city and 13 law enforcement officers over the shooting death of a pet dog during a highly publicized drug raid.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that the civil suit was filed Monday in federal court in Jefferson City on behalf of 25-year-old Jonathan Whitworth, who was arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges in the raid, his wife, Brittany Whitworth, and his 7-year-old stepson, who watched the arrests.

There was a public outcry over the botched raid when video of it was posted on the Internet. The video shows SWAT officers approach the family's home, announce they are serving a warrant, break down the door and almost immediately fire shots.

The officers killed the family's pit bull and wounded another dog, which survived.

Police said they were acting on a tip that Jonathan Whitworth was a major marijuana distributor but found only a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. Charges of possession of marijuana and second-degree child endangerment were dropped in a plea deal.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton later announced tighter rules for police serving search warrants for drugs.

Columbia police spokeswoman Jessie Haden said the department had no immediate comment because it needed to discuss the suit with its risk management and legal offices.

"Whatever we're able to discuss publicly and legally, we will," Haden said. "This incident has received an enormous amount of attention locally, and it is our intention to make the public as informed — with accurate information — as we can without compromising the legal process."

The suit seeks unspecified restitution for damages to personal property and medical and veterinary expenses.

"I think when they considered the 7-year-old and the fact that he had to have counseling, pay vet bills for an injured dog and the loss of another, along with repairs to the home and the trauma of that night, they made the decision that this needed to be done," said Columbia attorney Milt Harper.

Harper said he thought Burton should be complimented for the changes that reined in future SWAT responses. However, he said, people have a right to be treated respectfully in their homes, even during the execution of a search warrant.

"This is all about demanding professionalism from our law enforcement agencies," Harper said.