Updated at 3:45 p.m. March 1
Romeoville police said an officer believed an attack was imminent when he shot a dog that was running loose last week near Irene King Elementary School.
Chief Mark Turvey said an investigation into the Feb. 19 incident is under way. The dog did not die immediately following the shooting and was ultimately euthanized, police said.
“Anytime we discharge a weapon, we do an investigation, we review it,” Turvey said.
Mayor John Noak said he asked Turvey and Village Manager Steve Gulden to review the incident, along with the police department’s policies.
“I asked the village manager and the police chief to review all of our training and polices regarding our officers’ interaction with animals,” Noak said, adding the investigation will include looking into whether there are any best practices or technologies that could aid Romeoville police when it comes to dealing with animals.
Police said the dog had charged the officer twice and was growling and baring its teeth when the officer shot it in the front yard of a home across from the school.
Turvey said the officer responded around 3:20 p.m. Feb. 19 after police received at least two calls reporting a dog running loose. At the time of the incident, the village's animal warden was not working, according to Turvey.
Raymundo Delavega, the owner of the dog, said the family pet was able to escape from the backyard after a fence post broke due to rust. He said the dog had gotten out before, but had never attacked anyone.
"He's never been aggressive," Delavega said of the 5-year-old dog named Joseph. Delavega said the dog would sometimes bark at people who passed their home, but "he would never go attack anybody. He never bit anybody."
Turvey said police received calls about a dog acting aggressively on Feb. 19.
“The report we received was that the dog was snapping at kids and adults in the area,” Turvey said, adding that one of the calls came from a school employee, who said students had informed a teacher that a dog had been trying to bite them outside the school.
The dog, described by police as a pit bull/boxer mix, was first spotted in a grassy area near the exit of the Irene King parking lot, Turvey said. When the officer approached, the dog crossed the street, ending up in a front yard in the 300 block of Eaton Avenue.
Turvey said the officer requested a catch pole to secure the dog, and approached it to see if it was wearing tags.
According to police, the dog growled and charged the officer twice, despite the officer’s attempts to avoid the animal and take cover behind a pickup truck. According to Turvey, the officer shot the dog twice in the head.
“The first shot was when the dog was attacking,” Turvey said. Although the attack ceased after the first gunshot, he said, the officer made the decision to fire a second time to put the dog out of its misery.
“It appeared to be in extreme agony and the officer felt the humane thing to do was to put it out of its misery,” Turvey said. “ … I know this officer is a dog lover and he hated to do it.”
According to police, the second shot did not kill the dog, and it returned to its home just a few doors down from the school.
Turvey said the dog had escaped from the backyard due to an unsecured gate. The dog returned to the yard, entering through the same gate, and police went to the front door and spoke to the pet’s owner, according to Turvey.
Delavega said no one was home at his Eaton Avenue house when the incident occurred, but his 18-year-old daughter arrived shortly afterward.
"My daughter was hysterical after all this," he said. "She didn't know what to do." Delavega said police told her the injured dog was her responsibility. She took the pet to an animal clinic in Romeoville, according to her dad.
Delavega, who was heading to work when he learned of the shooting, said he drove to the animal clinic, where he was told it was unlikely Joseph would live long enough to make the trip to an animal hospital for surgery.
"They said there was no way he would make it to the hospital," Delavega said. "I told them to put him down." Delavega said the clinic offered to waive the charges to euthanize the pet.
‘A last resort’
Turvey said police work to ensure a safe outcome for everyone, including animals.
“Shooting the dog is a last resort,” he said. “We try to do whatever we can not to do that. We deal with hundreds of dogs every year, and it’s rare that we have to do this. We certainly strive to treat all animals humanely.”
Turvey said the officer’s first priority was protecting people from an attack.
“The dog appeared to be vicious,” he said. “We were very concerned the dog would attack someone," particularly a child.
“If an officer is in danger of being attacked, he does have the right to fire his weapon,” Turvey said.
Romeoville resident Jill Aikin, who is also the former president of the Romeoville Humane Society, said she was shocked to learn about the shooting.
"I'm concerned about what happened and how it happened," she said.
"If in fact the dog was vicious, where was animal control?" Aikin asked. She also questioned whether shooting the dog was necessary.
"They could have tased the dog," she said. "They could have used a tranquilizer ... They could have done something different other than shooting it in the face." Aikin added she was troubled by the fact that the officer discharged a weapon so close to a school.
Community members took to Facebook and the local discussion board Topix to air their concerns about the shooting, and Delavega said he also wonders if it was necessary to shoot his pet.
"They told me they shot him because he was acting aggressive and nibbling at people," he said. "I don't know what that means ...
"I know we've got some kind of blame for the dog being out," Delavega acknowledged. "If I would have been home, it wouldn't have happened ... What bothers me is, why did [the officer] have to shoot him?"
Delavega was also upset that his daughter was left to deal with the aftermath.
"You should have seen my house," he said. "There was blood all over the place."
Turvey said he understands the concerns.
“People are concerned that we had to shoot a dog and fire a gun in the area of a school,” Turvey said. “There’s a lot of concerns in the area and I understand.”
Turvey said the officer had his back to the campus when he discharged his weapon, and did not fire in the direction of the school.
“You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “If he missed the dog, the bullet would have gone into the ground … It appears the officer did use the proper precautions when he did this.”
Turvey said police reports do not indicate that any children witnessed the shooting. However, police are looking to talk to anyone who may have seen the incident.
Aikin also urged anyone who saw what happened to talk to police.
"The witnesses need to come forward," she said.
Anyone who witnessed the shooting is asked to contact Romeoville police at 815-886-7219.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Friday, March 1, to include comments from the dog's owner.