The February shooting death of a small miniature horse by a police officer prompted the owners to file a tort claim in April warning Clackamas County in Oregon of impending legal action. By Oct. 21 the parties had reached an agreement, finalized the mutual agreement, and the matter was made public by the Oregonian on Oct. 27, 2015.
The horse named Gir, 30, managed to get out of his pen and was found lying a short distance away in a neighbor’s yard. Because the homeowner believed the little horse was hit by a car, he called emergency 911. Deputy Matt Helmer responded to that call and, observing that Gir was having trouble standing, shot him [in the neck] to euthanize him. According to Helmer’s police report, he contacted a local veterinarian, humane society and a sergeant in sheriff’s office. According to Helmer, these official sources suggested putting the horse down. However, based on the owners’ attorney, neither the Oregon Humane Society nor the veterinarian advised Helmer to euthanize Gir.
Meanwhile, the owners of Gir, Adam and Crista Fitzgerald, were searching for their horse only to find him dead on the neighbor’s property. The horse was sent for autopsy which concluded that Gir received only damage from the gunshot. There was no other injury. The only thing that had been ailing Gir was arthritis due to his advanced age.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts held a meeting with the Fitzgeralds to reach a mutual settlement. Roberts had also released a statement referring to the shooting death of Gir a “mistake” and that a different action should have been pursued instead of euthanasia.
According to the settlement details released on the 27th:
Clackamas County has settled with the family for $24,000. Deputies Deputies will not euthanize pets, livestock or farm animals even at the owner’s request, must provide the owner with contact information for a veterinarian to euthanize the animal and make every effort to find the owner. The county is planning on forming an equine response [advocate] team made up of volunteers to handle equine emergencies. It hopes to create a team, fully functional by 2016, dedicated to handling calls involving distressed horses.
Based on sheriff’s office records, deputies have followed up on around 900 calls that involved horses over the last five years. Most were unable to spot horse health issues.
By all accounts, this settlement for wrongful death is thought to be the largest award for a small horse. The solution is deemed reasonable and is expected to deter any future misconduct and provide much-needed education.