No good deed goes unpunished: What happened when I DIDN’T shoot my neighbor’s dogs

Harry Thomas speaks to WTHR following the incident with Carmel Police. (Source:
Harry Thomas speaks to WTHR following the incident with Carmel Police.  (Source:
Harry Thomas speaks to WTHR following the incident with Carmel Police. (Source:

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished….or so the saying goes.  The reality of this old chestnut was brought home to me by a corrupt, unprofessional police department and a crooked cop.

I reside in Carmel, Indiana, a bedroom-type community just north of the I-465 loop of Indianapolis.  We’re described as one of the more livable cities in the U.S.  That may be, as long as you steer clear of the police department here.

It was a beautiful, sunny October day in 2010 when I looked out the sun porch in back toward my neighbor’s home.  He is an affable, easy-going young man with two kids who had only recently lost his wife in a tragic accident.  He is also the owner of two large dogs, brothers, that he had obtained as pups.

One of those dogs was nosing around my back yard.  This was NOT a good thing.

The two mutts had grown up inside my neighbor’s fenced yard and had grown intensely territorial.  Local residents walking for exercise had grown accustomed to the snarling dogs hurling themselves at the fence as they passed.

This was the first time in several years that I had seen one of the dogs outside that fence and I was scared silly.  My neighborhood runs heavily toward older people with lots of single women.  On such a lovely day they would be puttering in their yards, walking their dogs and engaging in other retired-lady pursuits.  A school bus would be stopping at the corner outside my home in a few minutes.  The dog was loose in a target-rich environment and something had to be done immediately.

I shouted to my wife to try to call the dog’s owner.  Being a retired police lieutenant I had witnessed the effects of vicious dog attacks and before going outside I slipped a gun into the hip pocket of the BDU’s I was wearing (I had been doing yard work), a Smith & Wesson Model 1950 Military & Police .45 revolver.  It was a damned good thing that I did.

I cautiously approached the dog trying to project an air of confidence that I certainly did not have.  He stood a few feet off, barking, but came no closer.  So far, so good.  I walked toward the fence corner between the properties and he followed.  When I got there I found the weak spot in the fence where he’d made his escape.  His brother came running to the spot to investigate my presence…and promptly squeezed through the same hole his brother had used.

GOD DAMN IT!!  BOTH dogs were now circling me and snarling.

I began walking toward the front of my house and they followed.  I had a vague idea that I might be able to trap them in my garage and await the arrival of their owner.  As I rounded the corner to the front of my home my heart sank…one my neighbor ladies with a squirrel-sized dog was walking up the street.  Both mutts shot across the street toward her like furry cruise missiles with me hard on their heels.  My wife was now standing in the front yard and she shouted, “LADY!!  PICK UP THAT DOG!!!”  The woman did so and clutched the tiny mutt to her chest as if it was made of platinum.

Why the two dogs didn’t actually attack her I can’t say, but had they done so I’d have been in big trouble.  I couldn’t possibly have employed my six-shooter with the neighbor lady in such close proximity, and I’m getting pretty long in the tooth to go hand-to-claw with even one dog.  They began circling her and barking as they had been doing with me.  I shouted and clapped my hands and they directed their attention back to me.  I continued raising a ruckus and backed across the street away from the terrified woman, decoying the dogs with me.  The lady saw her chance and scampered back up the street.

My plan to lure them into the garage came to naught; they were too wary and would have nothing of it.

I was now standing on the street corner where the school bus would be shortly arriving.  I began luring the dogs back to their yard.  When we got there I began to hope that the mutts had enjoyed enough of their adventure and might be willing to go back in the yard.  Their escape point was such that they could push their way out but not voluntarily re-enter by their own efforts.  I started to pry outward on the weakened section of fence.

I was watching them closely and I saw it coming.  The nearest dog lunged at me and I jumped.  His canines scraped my left shin and closed on a mouthful of the rip-stop nylon of my BDU’s.  I shook him off and took a couple of steps back in the hope that he would stop his attack.  He didn’t.  He came at me again with exactly the same results and began whipping his head back and forth violently with my pants in his mouth.  His brother began moving in.

I had every legal and moral right to blast them, and many of my acquaintances are puzzled yet today that I didn’t.  I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t be the cause of having my neighbor’s kids come home and find their dogs in two bloody heaps by the side of the road, whether they deserved it or not.

In front of me, across the road, was a frame house.  A few degrees to the right were several new houses under construction, just framed in and swarming with carpenters.  Shooting in that direction was out of the question no matter my intent.  My gun in hand, I turned and fired a shot harmlessly into the ground, behind me.  The effect was magical.  The dogs vanished into the woods across the street as if they were genies.  My relief was tremendous.  None of my neighbor’s dog’s blood was shed, and precious little of my own.

Then I made the only serious mistake of the day.  I called and notified the Carmel Indiana Police Department of what I had done.

A Carmel police sergeant by the name of Adam Miller as well as an animal control officer arrived and between the two of them were able to return the now docile dogs to their yard.  I introduced myself to the sergeant and gave him an exact account of what had occurred.  He then told me that he was arresting me for illegally discharging a firearm within city limits.

“What?” I said, incredulous.  “You mean the city ordinance here has no exception for self-defense???”

“Yes, it does,” Sgt. Miller responded.  “But this isn’t a self-defense shooting because you didn’t kill the dogs.”  (My emphasis)  As Dave Barry always says, I am NOT making this up.

I was astonished.  During my tenure as a peace officer the idea of arresting a citizen for using a firearm to prevent bloodshed would never have even been on my radar, or that of any officer with whom I ever worked.  What was this guy’s problem?

The sergeant made out a summons and handed it to me.  Then he snarled, “If I have any more trouble out of you, I’ll have your license to carry a handgun revoked and I’ll be back here to confiscate your guns.”

How could ANY law enforcement agency employ a man like this?  I was flabbergasted.  His arrogance, his lack of good judgment, his contemptuous attitude were all intolerable in a professional lawman.  My disbelief was compounded by the fact that he held the rank of sergeant and that it was his duty to instruct and be an example to his men.  If this guy could be a sergeant in this department, what were the troops like?

I looked up the applicable city ordinance:

It is declared to be unlawful for any person, with or without malice, purposely and deliberately to point, aim or fire a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, firearm or any other dangerous or deadly weapon within the corporate limits or within the established boundaries of the City.

This section shall not affect the use of weapons which have legally been approved for such use in areas or as otherwise approved by the Metropolitan Police Department of the City nor shall such prohibit the reasonable use of weapons in the protection of human life or property, including the protection of livestock or farm animals in an Agricultural District. (My emphasis)

I was covered on two fronts.  The human life aspect is obvious.  I was also protecting property, to wit: my neighbor’s dogs.

The officer’s inadequacies and unfitness for duty included ignorance of the elements of the city ordinances he is charged to enforce.  Or worse, a willingness to ignore them in order to pursue his own prejudices.

I retained an attorney.  He listened to my tale of woe and was in no way surprised.  He was well aware of the reputation of the Carmel Police Department and informed me that he had instructed his own children to avoid any contact with its officers.  They were never to even approach them for help.

A local news station became aware of the incident and did a story.  The comments section filled with remarks from outraged citizens supportive of my actions.

My attorney called me and informed me that the city’s police department and city prosecutor’s office were furious that I had exposed their foolishness.  Instead of admitting their mistake and dismissing the charges they were more determined than ever to convict me.  We went to court.

When the arresting officer testified I learned just how desperate the police and prosecutor were to save face and pull their chestnuts out of the fire.  For the first time after having spent my own adult life in law enforcement, I witnessed a sworn law enforcement officer commit deliberate, premeditated perjury.

The officer proceeded to recount a completely fictional conversation between us in which I stated that I fired the shot not because the dogs were attacking me, but to herd them through the hole in the fence as if I was Rowdy Yates on the old Rawhide TV Western.

The strategy was clear: Had I acted this way I would have no defense under the law.  The goal was to paint a picture of me not as a responsible citizen using a handgun in self-defense, but as a reckless nut job who had fired when I was in no actual danger.  Thus the officer’s false testimony that I “confessed” that I was never in any peril.

Fortunately, the officer’s willingness to commit perjury far exceeded his ability.  The prosecution’s fanciful version of events was simply too ridiculous to be plausible.

A veteran, retired law enforcement command officer fires a shot in a suburban neighborhood without any legal justification, then calls the police on himself and reports it with the full knowledge that he’ll be arrested for it?

Uh…no.  No one in the courtroom believed it, including the judge.

My wife testified as to those events she had witnessed.  Two of my neighbors, a minister and his wife, testified as to the viciousness of the dogs and how they always crossed the street when passing their house out of fear of them, thus refuting handily the officer’s perjured testimony that the dogs were cuddly puppies that had never endangered me.  It was my turn.

I told my story, including the fact that I had chosen not to shoot the dogs and could not have done so without changing our relative positions even if I wanted to.  For some reason the city prosecutor, Thomas Perkins, thought he had found an opening.  Perkins began to argue with me concerning my refusal to fire ahead in the direction of the dogs.  He tried to make the case that there was no difference between firing in front of me or behind me.

I carefully explained that in front of me were not only an occupied residence but clearly visible innocent bystanders and that no responsible gun owner will fire under such circumstances, and that behind me there was no one.  He continued to press me trying to get me to say that there would have been nothing dangerous about spraying .45 Auto Rim slugs across the road toward the people there.  In response to his repeated questions I calmly continued to reply that it was out of the question due to the fact that it would violate the most rudimentary rules of firearms safety.  He accomplished nothing other than making me look great and making an ass of himself.

Unable to get me to say that I don’t have a problem shooting at people who get in my way, the prosecutor rested his case.

I had one more hurdle.  My case was being heard in Carmel City Court, the functional equivalent of a mayor’s court.  I had experience with such courts in my law enforcement career and it was not uncommon for such courts to have far greater interest in replenishing the village coffers than in the administration of justice.  My case was in the hands of a judge.  There was no jury nor could I request one.

My question was answered when the judge began to speak.  He efficiently and pointedly demolished the prosecution’s case.  He noted that there was nothing in the applicable law which required shedding blood to prove a case of self-defense and that the firearm use need only be reasonable under the circumstances.  His remarks made it clear that he accepted my testimony that I was under attack when I fired and believed not a word of the arresting officer’s perjured testimony.  When he was finished the police department and prosecutor stood like the Emperor bereft of his clothes, naked to the community, their lack of integrity and their lies exposed.  The Judge turned to me.

“Sir, you are free to go.”

I was elated as were my supporters, but my elation did not last.  A sworn peace officer — also a member of the Carmel SWAT team — had lied in court with the clear support of his superiors and the city’s prosecutor in order to win a case, which, in the big picture, was small potatoes, a mere city ordinance violation punishable by fine only.

What was this cabal willing to do with a serious criminal case?  The thought preyed on me.  No agency that fielded the kind of thug who had tried to victimize me had the wherewithal to deal with the investigation of serious crime.  Police work requires integrity, a factor absent in this agency.  Was subverting the criminal justice system a mainstay of their efforts?

I drafted a long letter to the Hamilton County Prosecutor, D. Lee Buckingham II, outlining in detail what had occurred.  I described my fear that there might be innocent citizens languishing in jail, convicted of crimes resulting from perjured testimony.  I requested that the prosecutor initiate a review of the officer’s cases with an eye to identifying a possible pattern of behavior similar to that which had occurred in my case.

For weeks I heard nothing.  I began sending e-mails.  I finally got a response in which the prosecutor said he would have his investigators “look into it.”  I got another rambling response regarding prosecution tactics which didn’t even make mention of the fact that I had witnessed the officer giving totally fabricated testimony.  The county prosecutor indicated he would take no action.  I asked him for a copy of his investigator’s report.  He replied that there was none…right.

I suppose it can be said that I won the battle but lost the war.  They’re still out there.  My arresting officer, fearing no retribution for his acts, is still out there writing his own laws and lying in court.  How many of his brother officers are doing the same is anyone’s guess.  The city and county prosecutors are reaping the benefits of their perjury.  After all, when cops lie in court, they lie for the prosecution, right?  A prosecution win is a prosecution win.  Who cares how you got them when you’re bragging about your record at election time?

I’d like to stop them.  I don’t know how.

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Media coverage from WTHR :

Post-verdict coverage from NRA News:

To shoot or not to shoot: When an aggressive dog bites |

UPDATE: Not Guilty verdict in dog ‘warning shot’ case |

Lt. Harry Thomas
About Lt. Harry Thomas 3 Articles
Lieutenant Harry Thomas is retired from the police department of Cincinnati, Ohio. A former member of the boards of the National Rifle Association and the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, he now resides in the Greater Indianapolis area.