Thursday, January 24, 2013
D.C. police are investigating whether a man will face criminal charges for shooting a pit bull that was attacking a child in his neighborhood.
The incident unfolded Sunday afternoon, after three pit bulls attacked an 11-year-old boy as he rode his bicycle through the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest, according to a police report.
When the man, a neighbor, saw the boy being mauled by the dogs, he went inside his home and got a gun. The man killed one of the dogs. The gunfire attracted the attention of a police officer in the area near Eighth and Sheridan streets, where the attack occurred. The officer responded and shot the other two pit bulls as they continued to attack the boy.
The police report, which did not identify any of the people involved, said the boy suffered severe lacerations. The Washington Post, which first reported the details of the shooting, quoted the boy's uncle as saying the boy was also shot in the foot.
Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Wednesday that the entire case, including whether the man legally owned the gun he used to kill the dog, is under investigation.
While public opinion might be supportive of the man's actions, he could still face significant charges depending on the outcome of the investigation, criminal defense attorney Daniel Gross said.
"I've seen cases where people used weapons in defense of others, but the U.S. attorney's office is not always so understanding," said Mr. Gross, who represents many clients charged with firearms-related crimes in the District. "There are certain defenses one could try, like self-defense or defense of others, but that wouldn't really go to whether they charge you."
The man could face a host of charges depending on the specifics of the case, including whether the gun used is a registered firearm that the man was legally permitted to own, Mr. Gross said. Possession of an unregistered firearm or ammunition is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, and determining whether the man legally possessed the gun used will likely have greater bearing on the way the case is handled, Mr. Gross said.
Low-level unregistered firearms and ammunitions charges generally are prosecuted by the D.C. office of the attorney general, but additional charges could mean the case is bumped up to the U.S. attorney's office.
"In this case, it would likely be the U.S. attorney's office, and their discretion is sometimes less than local prosecutors," Mr. Gross said.
Also to be taken into consideration is whether the man was within his property line when he fired the weapon — a small but significant distinction. Mr. Gross said it could mean the difference in whether he could be charged with carrying a pistol without a license.