A former Wichita police officer who wounded a 9-year-old when he fired at her family's dog pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a felony charge of aggravated battery.
Dexter Betts, who was fired from the Wichita Police Department less than a month after injuring the girl, entered the plea following a short preliminary hearing Wednesday morning in Sedgwick County District Court. The criminal charge against Betts is thought to be the first in two decades for a Wichita police officer involved in an on-duty shooting that resulted in an injury or death.
Prosecutors contend Betts acted recklessly and with disregard for the girl's life and safety when he shot twice toward her family's 35- to 40-pound miniature English bull Terrier on Dec. 30. Police went to the girl's home, on North Gentry, after her mother, Danielle Maples, called 911 saying her husband had put a gun in his mouth and was choking a dog. The man was unarmed and standing in the driveway with his hands up when Betts and another officer arrived, according to testimony given in court Wednesday.
The girl was sitting on the floor near the dog — "directly in the line of fire," Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said — when it moved and Betts fired twice.
An attorney for the girl's family, Charley O'Hara, has described the dog's actions as coming up to the officer and barking.
Betts' defense attorney, Jess Hoeme, says Betts was being attacked.
The shots missed both the girl and the dog. But a bullet fragment that ricocheted off of the concrete floor under the carpet hit the girl above her eye.
Maple's other three children were in the living room nearby when Betts fired. The dog, named Chevy, was also hit by bullet fragments.
"The recklessness here is firing a shot at the dog" in close proximity to the girl, Bennett said Wednesday.
An officer has the right to defend himself against a charging dog but “the officer has to have a clear background before he shoots," he said in court.
Hoeme disagreed that Betts' actions were inappropriate. Officers respond to domestic violence calls "in a very careful way," he said.
"He was not reckless. He was acting very intentionally in clearing the house in an attempt to avoid being attacked by this vicious dog," Hoeme argued.
Betts, he said, "acknowledged the danger and dealt with the danger."
District Judge Kevin O'Connor bound Betts over for trial on the single count of aggravated battery after hearing testimony from another Wichita officer who was in the house when Betts fired and from a crime scene investigator who collected bullet fragments and took photos inside of the girl's house after the shooting.
He also viewed a short video clip that shows the shooting taken from Betts' body-worn camera.
Bett's jury trial is set for Aug. 20. His employment with WPD ended Jan. 25. He lives and works in Utah now, his attorney said in court.