Feb 24, 2023 - News

Dog's death causes debate over FBI agent's actions

Illustration of crime scene tape reading CRIME SCENE and DO NOT CROSS over a dark background.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Philadelphians have spent the week torn over whether an off-duty FBI agent was too quick to shoot and kill a pit bull that attacked their dog on a busy downtown street — and the case is still in play.

Catch up quick: The incident happened Monday around 8pm outside the Touraine apartments in Center City. The pit bull’s owner has called the agent reckless for shooting the dog and endangering her and nearby pedestrians. The FBI has said it was told the agent was protecting their own pet.

State of play: Philadelphia Police and the FBI are investigating the shooting; neither agency would disclose the identity of the agent.

  • Philly police spokesperson Eric Gripp tells Axios the department won’t publicly release video of the incident but that prosecutors could later choose to release footage if they bring a case against the agent.
  • There’s no timeline for when the department will hand over its investigative findings to prosecutors for review.

Zoom in: As word of the shooting spread on social media, animal rights activists from Revolution Philadelphia gathered Tuesday outside FBI headquarters on Arch Street to demand justice for Mia, the pit bull, and accountability for the agent.

  • The group has questioned whether the agent’s use of force violated bureau policies.

What they’re saying: Mia’s owner Maria Esser told reporters that her dog was on a three-foot leash and she felt like the agent prematurely opened fire before giving her a chance to intervene in the fight.

  • “Mia was shot and killed because she was seen as a threatening breed. The FBI agent acted out of fear and fragility," Gabriella Esser, Maria’s sister, posted on Instagram.

The other side: Legal experts told Billy Penn it’s unlikely that the agent will face criminal charges.

  • It’s legal in Pennsylvania to kill an animal that’s posing a threat to a human or another animal. Plus, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 allows federal officers to carry concealed weapons with few limitations.
  • Kristen Bergsten of the Animal Law Firm told Billy Penn that witnesses would have to come with contradictory accounts; otherwise, it’s going to be “very difficult to get around the affirmative defense of ‘the dog was attacking me.’”

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