Bodycam shows police officers in Maryland face lawsuit after they shoot dog who was later euthanized

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Attorneys are demanding changes in a Maryland police department after filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of four roommates claiming police officers illegally entered their apartment without a warrant and unnecessarily shot their dog, which was paralyzed and later euthanized.

The lawsuit filed Monday against Prince George’s County and three Prince George’s County police officers is seeking at least $16 million over the June 2021 incident, which the lawsuit claims follows a decades long pattern of misconduct.

"We'll keep filing these suits until police in Prince George's County are reformed such that they don't do these kinds of things anymore and are properly trained to deal with and interact with the public by respecting their constitutional rights and being kind, rather than brutal as they were here," an attorney for the roommates, William “Billy” Murphy Jr., told USA TODAY.

Officers were responding to a report of a dog bite at the apartment complex where Erica Umana, Erika Erazo Sanchez, Dayri Amaya Benitez and Brandon Cuevas lived, according to the suit. Graphic body camera footage released by the roommate's attorneys shows when the officers received no response at the door, they obtained a master key from maintenance and entered the apartment. Another attorney for the roommates, Malcolm Ruff, told USA TODAY that was a "critical moment" in the incident.

"Everything they did after that was illegal," he said.

From inside their bedroom, Benitez and Cuevas asked if the officers had a warrant, and one replied they did not need one because they had "probable cause," according to the suit and the footage. Benitez came out of the bedroom with her hands up, and officers attempted to handcuff her, the suit said.

Court documents said Umana and Sanchez then entered the apartment, and an officer slammed Umana to the ground. Amid the confrontation, Cuevas and Umana's dog, a boxer mix named Hennessey, left the bedroom, the suit said.

According to the suit, the dog was approaching Umana when the officers panicked and shot the animal with their guns and a stun gun. The officers then handcuffed the roommates and put them in police vehicles for about an hour, the suit said.

"It was a nightmare," Sanchez said at a press conference Monday. "I held Henny's body, a bloody body, while she was dying in my arms, while the rest of our family was wrongfully detained and denied the ability to check on her."

The dog was taken to an animal hospital and euthanized because it was permanently paralyzed, according to the lawsuit. The county offered to pay for the animal's medical bills if Umana did not speak publicly about the incident, the suit claims, but she declined the offer. Allyson Wilson, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, declined to comment on active litigation.

Ruff said the roommates have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety as a result of the encounter with police.

"They are still devastated by the loss of their dog, but more than that, they're also devastated by the way they were treated," Ruff said.

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