Federal Court Rules Unlicensed Pets are “Contraband” — Police Can Legally Kill Them

By Jay Syrmopoulos

Detroit, MI – Nikita Smith filed a lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department after they killed her three dogs during a raid of her home in search of pot last year. On Wednesday, a judge absurdly ruled the dogs were considered “contraband,” noting that Smith had no legal basis to sue the police department for shooting and killing her dogs, due to the canines not having been properly licensed.

Subsequently, the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Smith after a raid of her home by the Detroit police was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh.

According to a report by Reason:

The ruling is the first time a federal court has considered the question of whether an unlicensed pet—in violation of city or state code—is protected property under the Fourth Amendment. Federal courts have established that pets are protected from unreasonable seizures (read: killing) by police, but the city of Detroit argued in a motion in March that Smith’s dogs, because they were unlicensed, were “contraband” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment, meaning she had no legitimate property interest in them and therefore no basis to sue the officers or department.

Sadly, Judge Steeh agreed with the city’s ridiculous assertion that since the dogs were not licensed, they were not a legitimate property interest, thus giving Smith no legal basis to sue either the department or the individual officer/s that killed her dogs.

“The Court is aware that this conclusion may not sit well with dog owners and animal lovers in general,” the judge Steeh wrote in his opinion. “The reason for any unease stems from the fact that while pet owners consider their pets to be family members, the law considers pets to be property.”

“The requirements of the Michigan Dog Law and the Detroit City Code, including that all dogs be current with their rabies vaccines, exist to safeguard the public from dangerous animals,” he continued. “When a person owns a dog that is unlicensed, in the eyes of the law it is no different than owning any other type of illegal property or contraband. Without any legitimate possessory interest in the dogs, there can be no violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Think about that for a moment, the judge is legally equating owning an unlicensed dog, with “illegal property or contraband.”

So, does someone owning an unlicensed car give you no Fourth Amendment protections over it, and does it constitute illegal property or contraband simply because it isn’t licensed with the city/state?

Does government somehow have some magical authority to say that if you don’t license your property as they have dictated, then your property is illicit and you have no constitutional protections over it?

Steeh’s opinion went on to reason that since there was no Fourth Amendment violation, then there is no legal basis for a civil rights claim against the city. Additionally, Steeh ruled that even if the dogs had been recognized as her property, the animals presented an imminent threat to police, thus the suit would have been dismissed anyway.

Much in line with the brutal reality that a massive number of dogs across America are being executed, Smith’s suit labeled the police officers’ actions in her home akin to a “dog death squad.” She noted that officers shot one of the dogs through a closed bathroom door. Gruesome photos from the raid revealed a blood-drenched bathroom with Smith’s dog lying in a pool of blood.

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In only the past two years, numerous lawsuits have been filed against the Detroit Police Department for executing dogs. Once incident ended with the city paying out $100,000 to settle a suit after police dash cam footage revealed a dog being killed by an officer while still chained up and no threat to officers. The case was one of three lawsuits filed against the DPD for killing dogs during raids in search of cannabis. In another case, filed in June, officers are alleged to have killed a couple’s dogs while they were behind a backyard fence.

The absurdity of raiding people’s homes in an assaultive and violent manner in search of a medicinal plant reeks of government overreach and waste.

The report by Reason noted extremely brutal nature :

A Reason investigation last year found the DPD’s Major Violators Unit, which conducts drug raids in the city, has a track record of leaving dead dogs in its wake. One officer had shot 39 dogs over the course of his career before the raid on Smith’s house, according to public records.

That officer is now up to 73 kills, according to the most recent records obtained by Reason.

Two other officers involved in the Smith raid testified during the trial that they had shot “fewer than 20” and “at least 19” dogs over the course of their careers…

Reason’s review of “destruction of animal” reports filed by Detroit police officers did not find a single instance where a supervisor found that a dog shooting was unjustified.

Does anyone really believe that the officer with 73 dog killings is doing it to protect themselves and other officers from imminent danger? The wanton disregard for life is astonishing and speaks to the extreme levels of brutality we see taking place on American streets on a daily basis.

Once again highlighting the lack of proper training police receive, Judge Steeh’s opinion noted that the “police officers conducting the search had not received any specific training on how to handle animal encounters during raids.”

The court opinion also recognized that Detroit police supervisors found the shooting of Smith’s three dogs all to be justified, but curiously noting:

“However, as in many other cases, the ratifying officers did so without speaking to the officers about what had transpired,” the court wrote.

The search warrant for Smith’s residence came after police received a tip that marijuana was being sold out of the home. The raid, which killed her three dogs, netted a total of 25 grams of marijuana – not even an ounce. Since recent polling support for legalizing cannabis has reached upwards of 80%, perhaps giving police a license to kick down doors, with weapons drawn, in search of a plant, is a recipe for disaster.

Ironically, after the police killed her three dogs, the case against Smith was dismissed due to officers failing to show up for her court hearing. Three murdered dogs, smashed house, no charges, and endless pain and suffering — all for an illegal plant — and this is called justice.

Jay Syrmopoulos is an geopolitical analyst, freethinker, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs and holds a BA in International Relations. Jay’s writing has been featured on both mainstream and independent media – and has been viewed tens of millions of times. You can follow him on Twitter @SirMetropolis and on Facebook at SirMetropolis. You can support his work at Patreon. This article first appeared at The Free Thought Project.


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16 Comments on "Federal Court Rules Unlicensed Pets are “Contraband” — Police Can Legally Kill Them"

  1. I moved out of Detroit 30+ years ago, after 30 + years of watching it become a jungle. I’d be interested to know the demographic on that officer; both he and the piece of shit judge should suffer the same fate as the dogs.

  2. So. Dog Shooter Teams are ROAMING THE CITY SHOOTING WILD UNLICENSED DOGS??? CATS TOO???

    Or Just DOGS LIVING IN HOMES WITH THEIR HUMANS???

    • so if that is the case, can police dogs now be viewed as personal pets? Can they now be targeted if they are let off their leash? A dog is a dog is a dog now in the courts eyes, just musing out loud.

  3. “Contraband” usually applies to trade or importation, not personal property, unless you’re a character in The Shawshank Redemption. Don’t they at least have to draft the owner before busting her for contraband? Did the officers establish that the dogs were unlicensed before bravely discharging their weapons? Did anyone even establish the constitutionality of requiring a license to have a dog? (or a soul? Coming soon…)

  4. Why is this so called judge still breathing

  5. rhondareichel | August 4, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Reply

    One day people are going to start shooting back…these officers put themselves and their fellow officers in danger with this reckless practice. War on drugs has failed….time to legalize pot.

  6. “The ruling is the first time a federal court has considered the question of whether an unlicensed pet—in violation of city or state code—is protected property under the Fourth Amendment. Federal courts have
    established that pets are protected from unreasonable seizures (read: killing) by police, but the city of Detroit argued in a motion in March that Smith’s dogs, because they were unlicensed, were “contraband” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment, meaning she had no legitimate property interest in them and therefore no basis to sue the officers or department.”

    First, judges do NOT decide if anything is Lawful or not, they are to decide if it follows the US Constitution. Judges were NOT delegated the authority to “interpret” the US Constitution. Nor do they create legislation or decide guilt/innocence (that is the people as the jury). Instead ALL the People’s property of every type, including your natural rights (yes, they are your property also), freedom, income (depending), etc are required to be PROTECTED by those that SERVE WITHIN OUR GOVERNMENTS – state and federal, and this is all found in writing.

    This judge is either criminally ignorant of what the duties are, what the supreme LAW of this land is, and should not only be removed from the “bench”, but should be charged with the felony and Perjury for breaking the Oath of Office sworn when the position was accepted.

    James Madison: “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

    John Adams: “Property is surely a right of mankind, as really as liberty”.

    “What is a constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established.” Van Horne v. Dorrance, 2 Dall. 304.

    “A constitution is designated as a supreme enactment, a fundamental act of legislation by the people of the state. A constitution is legislation direct from the people acting in their sovereign capacity, while a statute is legislation from their representatives, subject to limitations prescribed by the superior authority.” Ellingham v. Dye, 231 U. S. 250.

    “The basic purpose of a written constitution has a two-fold aspect, first securing [not granting] to the people of certain unchangeable rights and remedies, and second, the curtailment of unrestricted governmental activity within certain defined spheres.” Du Pont v. Du Pont, 85 A 724.

    “Constitution of this state declares, among inalienable rights of each citizen, that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property. This is one of primary objects of government, is guaranteed by constitution, and cannot be impaired by legislation.” Billings v. Hall (1857), 7 C. 1.

    “Right of protecting property, declared inalienable by constitution, is not mere right to protect it by individual force, but right to protect it by law of land, and force of body politic.” Billings v. Hall (1857), 7 C. 1.

    “The constitution of a state is stable and permanent, not to be worked upon the temper of the times, not to rise and fall with the tide of events. Notwithstanding the competition of opposing interests, and the violence of contending parties, it remains firm and immoveable, as a mountain amidst the strife and storms, or a rock in the ocean amidst the raging of the waves.” Vanhorne v. Dorrance, supra.

    Cooley, The General Principles of Constitutional Law, 3rd. ed. (1898), pp. 386-387. (Little & Brown Co.).: “In the construction of these instruments the following rules are actually observed:
    1. The practical construction must be uniform. A constitution does not mean one thing at one time and another at some subsequent time.
    2. The object of construction is to give effect to the intent of the people in establishing the Constitution; it is the intent of the law giver that is to be enforced. But the intent is to be found in the instrument itself. . .”

    People, start reading the US Constitution and your own state’s Constitution. They define what can be done by those that serve within our governments. Remember that the supreme Law and supreme contract that those that serve within government are under is in writing – refer to it often.

    Also be aware that those “Amendments” put on your state ballet are changing your state’s Constitution and binding you by those changes. Do you think those Amendments are put into place to protect YOUR powers kept for yourself? To protect YOUR natural rights? To make life easier on you and yours in that state? READ them, research all ramifications they may cause, and some can surprise you because they are always worded so that they can be applied in other areas that will affect your life and lives. Wake up, READ!

    • Everything you are saying here is true and I agree….but…. They will keep on doing things like this to WE THE PEOPLE until we can’t take it any longer… They are causing this division between Police vs. The World…. There seems to be an absence of common sense in Police work these days… I was a Police Officers back in the 1980’s….we never heard of a dog getting shot unless blood had already been down by the dog… Police Officers today seem to be afraid of everything to include their shadows… sad, sad, sad…..

  7. Free Man (NOT) | August 4, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Reply

    And they wonder why even the sheeple are coming to understand that government is not here to protect people, but to control them. (By any means necessary)
    I guess they should consider themselves lucky that they weren’t shot along with their dogs.

  8. political toilet | August 4, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Reply

    By law, only a Rabid Animal may be shot, or one that is attacking a human, or has a history of ill-temper via biting.
    It does, however, set a dangerous trend outside of those perimeters; will unlicensed or non-ID’d humans be next?
    They were in Nazi Europe…

  9. Louis Charles | August 5, 2017 at 1:24 am | Reply

    >>>>Three murdered dogs, smashed house, no charges, and endless pain and
    suffering — all for an illegal plant — and this is called justice.<<<< My first reaction was complete disgust for the cops. That is still there; believe me. But with further analysis, this really is justice served… TO A POPULATION OF HUMANS WHO JUST DON'T CARE ABOUT FIGHTING FOR LIBERTY. ….or worse, they actually fight against it with the prescriptions of elephants and jackAsses. Think about it, objectively. And for Christians in here: Galatians 6:7-8 and Acts 5:1

  10. Someone should be killing them. Sick neutered life forms, the humans have been made.

  11. The judge truly needs his head examined. Where is the Humane Society when you need them? Are they ignoring the constant killing of pets? If so, they aren’t worth two cents!

  12. After reading, see the warning at the bottom.
    Watch the Judge’s car.
    If the inspection sticker, city tax, car registration, or plates go out of date by one day,
    openly and loudly threaten to take a sledgehammer to the judge’s contraband car.
    Then hand the judge’s dog decision right back to him.
    Next check the house taxes and anything else that the judge owns.
    Warning, make certain that everyone understands that your threats are hollow and that you don’t even own a sledgehammer.
    You are just making a point better by giving a verbal example even the judge can understand.

  13. Michael Muller | August 9, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Reply

    does someone owning an unlicensed car give you no Fourth Amendment
    protections over it, and does it constitute illegal property or
    contraband simply because it isn’t licensed with the city/state?

    This is a terrible analogy. An unlicensed car is protected by the 4th amendment because it is not illegal to possess it. I have an unlicensed car which I am rebuilding the engine on. It is protected by the 4th amendment, it is NOT unlawful to possess, and it is not therefore, contraband. The unlicensed car is never illegal to possess, but it becomes illegal only when you drive it on the highway. An unregistered gun, kilo of cocaine, bottle of booze if you are under 21 are examples of property which is unlawful to possess or contraband. License the dog, register the gun, turn 21….then you have 4th amendment protections

  14. Michael Muller | August 9, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Reply

    The decision is legally sound. Dogs are personal property, and as such, if an officer seizes a dog with a bullet, the officer’s conduct must be reasonable under the totality of the circumstance. If not, the shooting of the dog is a violation of the 4th amendment. However, if a dog is unlicensed, he is property which is unlawful to possess. This is the definition of contraband, and under the law set forth by the US Supreme Court, the dog owner has no legitimate possessory interest in the dog. No legitimate possessory interest….no 4th amendment protections.

    Understand that under Michigan law, the only damages which can be recovered for wrongfully destroyed personal or real property is the value of the property. However, dog owners lawyers have recently been bringing 4th amendment civil rights claims because juries can award emotional distress damages in civil rights cases.

    The courts decision supports the underlying law which requires dogs to be licensed. This is good for the dog because he gets all his needed vaccinations, and if he gets away, Animal Control can contact the owner and reunite the two instead of hoping someone adopts the dog before his day to be euthanized arrives. It is also good for the public because it reduces the number of strays, eliminates the possibility of getting rabies if bitten and allows owners to get their dogs back.

    If Ms. Smith had complied with the law and licensed her dogs, they would have been protected under the 4th amendment. No different than having an unregistered gun. The gun is illegal to possess, is contraband , and not protected by the 4th amendment. Register the gun, and it is protected by the 4th amendmentsee more0

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