Justice for Cali: What will it take for Police Officers to stop killing pets?

Another dog was shot and killed by Officer Bryce Woolly in the presence of animal control. We’re waiting on a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many times this has happened in Ardmore, OK.

Cali was a friendly pit bull that could jump fences. Her owner Sarah had trouble keeping her in, but Cali was so nice that in the almost three years they lived there, no one ever complained to Sarah, nor to the police or animal control, as far as Sarah knew, until her regular mailman, who loved Cali, went on vacation and the new mailman was frightened at the site of a pit bull running wild. For the record, I would be too if I didn’t know the animal. He also states that Cali barked at him, which would be even more terrifying for me.

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“But what he clearly heard and is concerned about is Officer Woolly then bragging about it and laughing to the animal control officer about the way the collar popped off. And how it was different from two days earlier when he killed another dog with a pistol.”

A witness who lived nearby saw Cali NOT being aggressive outside his house with the animal control officers. He went in his house, looked out the window, saw that Cali was still not being aggressive and saw Officer Woolly had arrived and was talking with animal control. He saw Officer Woolly head back to his car (realizing after, it was to retrieve a shotgun). He cannot say for certain whether or not Officer Woolly was justified in shooting Cali, because he was just coming back out of the house onto his porch when Officer Woolly shot Cali. But what he clearly heard and is concerned about is Officer Woolly then bragging about it and laughing to the animal control officer about the way the collar popped off. And how it was different from two days earlier when he killed another dog with a pistol. Most concerning though is hearing him conspire with the animal control officer to what sounded like falsifying a report when he heard Officer Woolly say, “We are just going to write this up in the report as the dog tried to attack me and you and others in the neighborhood.”

The other dog Officer Woolly killed two days prior was also a pit bull, but was killed hiding under a truck in a driveway, again because he couldn’t catch it. This was the reason Officer Woolly gave for killing Cali in a press report, that the owner could not be located and the animal could not be captured. Cali’s tags had her owner’s address and phone number on them, and by the witness’ account, Officer Woolly did not have time to attempt to capture Cali. He just got there, spoke to the animal control officers, fetched his shotgun, and shot her.

Citizens do not like police officers shooting dogs for no good reason, but many also do not like pit bulls to be roaming free, even when they are very clearly not aggressive ones. Chief Grace said that “now” he is getting calls about Cali being aggressive. I just keep getting calls about her being friendly, and it seems unlikely to me that anyone would wait till the dog is dead to report that they were afraid. Why did no one report it before? And if they did, why was the owner not warned or fined? Would citizens, animal control, and APD really just let a viscous pit bull run free for almost three years without saying or doing anything?

All across the country officers are callously shooting dogs at an alarming rate, among other more serious abuses of power. I wondered why in the world the citizens in those towns were standing for this? Why won’t they do something. Those citizens in those town are responsible for their employees, their police whom they pay to protect their rights. It just seemed that nothing was ever done. Although many times they would go through all the correct channels that the town had set up for complaints, typically no wrong doing was ever found by the corrupt officers, and eventually the whole thing would die down. Sometimes the officer would be “let go” to turn up employed as an officer in a neighboring town.

Then about 8 months ago, it all became a little clearer when I watched it happen in my County (not that it hadn’t happened before, but this was my first encounter). This dog was killed in the dog’s own backyard where a deputy trespassed without a warrant or permission while the owner was away. I was outraged. I learned very quickly that this deputy was a great person whom many loved. This made it difficult for people to see the facts for what they really were, and again, no wrong doing was found on the part of the deputy and nothing was done to correct the situation.

An innocent dog was dead, one who was just doing his job to protect his own yard from an intruder who had no right to be there. And I, who help pay this good man’s salary did little to nothing. But what could I do? File a complaint? Sign a petition? Hold a rally? Make phone calls telling them how awful this was? People do these things all across the nation and it does not seem to change the outcome. But there must be something we can do, I thought. We just can’t let this stand. Then life got in the way, time passed, and it did stand. Now I have to wonder, what if we had organized, protested, and demanded a change in whatever policy is “allowing” this to occur. Could that have changed Officer Woolly’s inclination to just kill someone’s beloved pet without investigating to see if the dog was aggressive, or ever warning the owner?

I’ve learned again, like the deputy before, that Officer Bryce Woolly is supposedly a great guy. Of course he is. And herein lies the problem. All these officers that we hear about are real people, with real friends (sometimes lots of them), real families, co-workers and loved ones who genuinely care about them, and just like everybody else, real faults. It’s very easy to demonize an officer that you don’t know (that’s the part of the story that goes viral and gets people riled up), and also very easy to overlook faults in people you do know (the part of the story that allows people to let things just die down). It’s also very clear what needs to happen to the demonized officer, and not so clear what should happen to the great guy that “just had a bad day” that you’ve been friends with for 25 years, that you play games with, and go eat with. The things that the nation is saying about him just isn’t true; they don’t know him like you do.

Not knowing him, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, Officer Bryce Woolly may very well be a wonderful person with some faults that happen to make him a terrible police officer at times. It would be a very hard thing to side against a good friend or colleague that has made a terrible mistake and could cost them their career. But it’s a much worse thing to look away while these otherwise kind people continue to harm others for various reasons. It’s helpful to remember that Officer Woolly can be just as great a person in a different profession. If we don’t stand up against abuse of power when we see it in our friends, then we are as guilty as they are for the harm they cause.

It takes a very special person to be a police officer, to have the mindset that you are there to protect people’s rights, and not assume everyone is a criminal. We need to learn to recognize sooner when a great person should choose a different career because they don’t have the many special qualities it takes to be in law enforcement.

Sarah went to talk to the Police Chief for answers, but felt like she was brushed off by Captain Norris. Sarah is a very sweet young mother whose husband works out of town, so I offered to go back with her.

Cali and her owner Sarah.

Cali and her owner Sarah.

My son and daughter-in-law used to be neighbors with Sarah and knew Cali to be a friendly animal. I thought perhaps my position as the Carter County Republican Party Chairman, and the fact that we found out about this whole incident from Tulsa County GOP seeing it going viral on the internet, would help them to understand how big of a deal this is turning out to be for Ardmore.

I saw Chief Grace in the parking lot as I was waiting for Sarah to meet me at the station. I explained that she felt brushed off by the Captain and I really just wanted at this point for him to assure her that this was being investigated and taken very seriously. At first he was very open, and said he hated it when animals were killed, but very quickly began to talk about all the “idiots” who were calling in. After the fourth time he used the the term “idiots” to refer to callers, I asked him to please stop referring to citizens as idiots, because it was making me very uncomfortable. I agree that many things people say can be idiotic, but for the Police Chief to call citizens idiots is just plain wrong, and I’m very sorry to report it. The conversation went downhill from there.

In his office with Sarah, he completely brushed us off, saying to every single question that he couldn’t comment, an investigation was being conducted, and would be turned over to the DA. This was not at all what I expected from Chief Grace, as I had heard so many wonderful things about him as Sheriff. I attempted to steer the questions to generic ones because I knew he was not going to answer Sarah’s questions pertaining to her situation. She needed to understand what was going on though. She needed answers.

I asked what protocol typically would be in a similar situation. He refused to answer. I asked numerous questions about the training that his officers receive relating to dogs. He refused to answer. He continuously watched a T.V. that was on in his office. When I asked him if he was listening, he said, “We’re done.” In fact, many times he said, “We’re done, you can leave now.” Had I known he was going to relate to her in this manner, I never would never have bothered to take her there. I had even asked Precinct Chair Vickie Babcock to go with us because she had previously had a good rapport with then Sheriff Grace about guns. I truly expected this to be a good experience. It was not.

However, to the City of Ardmore’s credit, Kenneth Campbell, the City Clerk and Finance Director, whose job it is to take the Freedom of Information Act requests, did answer Sarah’s questions and concerns. He did this the way I had hoped Chief Grace would. Without commenting on any specifics about the case whatsoever, he let her talk and helped her navigate the steps she was trying to take. Ardmore should be extremely proud of Kenneth. He and I disagree on many government issues but long ago, he said to me, “Anna, I will show you how to fight this, then I will campaign against you on this issue, and then we can have a beer later when it’s over.” He doesn’t take things personally and has shown me time and again that he is willing to do his job even when he disagrees with you.

A group called Justice for Cali has planned a protest rally this Saturday the 29th from Noon to 2 pm at the Ardmore Police Station at 23 S. Washington. The things that can be done are being done: filing the complaints, protesting, phone calls, organizing, and many more solutions are being explored. Come out Saturday to hear about the progress and let your outrage or disapproval be seen. Ardmore Oklahoma has some of the best people in the State in government positions. I just know the changes we will see come out of this unfortunate incident will set a great example.

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“Most concerning though is hearing him conspire with the animal control officer to what seemed like to him falsifying a report when he heard Officer Woolly say, “We are just going to write this up in the report as the dog tried to attack me and you and others in the neighborhood.””

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