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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Huge Loss for Augusta Sheriff: Fourth Circuit Overturns Trial Court, Orders Jury Trial in Dog Shooting Case

Written by: Sam Orlando

Augusta County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Roane Must Face Jury, Appeals Court Rules

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – In a ground breaking ruling released on February 22, 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a lower court's decision in the case of Tina Ray vs. Michael Roane, setting the stage for a trial that could have broader implications for police conduct and the rights of pet owners, and chipping away at police officers' ability to use "qualified immunity" as a shield from legal liability.

The case centers on an incident where Michael Roane, a police officer, shot and killed Tina Ray's dog, Jax, while attempting to serve an arrest warrant at Ray's residence in Augusta County. The district court had previously granted summary judgment in favor of Roane, effectively dismissing Ray's claims without a trial. However, the Fourth Circuit's decision vacates that judgment, criticizing the lower court's handling of the case and emphasizing the necessity for a jury to evaluate the critical facts.

Dispute Over Material Facts

At the heart of the appellate court's decision is a dispute over two material facts: whether Roane had stopped retreating from Jax and then took a step towards the dog before shooting him. These actions, the court noted, could suggest that Roane recognized the dog could no longer reach him, potentially rendering the shooting unnecessary and unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

Evidentiary Discrepancies and Jury Deliberation

The Fourth Circuit highlighted discrepancies in witness testimonies regarding Roane's actions before the shooting, pointing out that such disputes should be resolved by a jury. The appellate court found that the district court erred in its interpretation of these facts and in granting summary judgment, thereby preventing the case from going to trial.

Implications for Qualified Immunity

The decision also addresses the issue of qualified immunity, with the appellate court stating that a jury could find Roane's actions unreasonable if it believed he knew Jax posed no imminent threat when he shot the dog. This aspect of the ruling challenges the lower court's conclusion that Roane was entitled to qualified immunity based on his account of the incident. The decision further erodes the protections police officers in the fourth circuit once enjoyed, potentially changing the way departments manage officer misconduct investigations.

A Call for Jury Evaluation

The Fourth Circuit's ruling emphasizes the importance of jury evaluation in cases involving allegations of unconstitutional actions by law enforcement officers. By vacating the summary judgment and remanding the case for trial, the court affirms the need for a thorough examination of the facts, particularly when the use of deadly force against a household pet is in question.

Awaiting Trial

As the case is remanded for trial, the decision marks a significant moment for Tina Ray and others concerned with the rights of pet owners and the standards governing police conduct. The forthcoming trial will not only determine the outcome of Ray's claims against Roane but also contribute to the ongoing dialogue about law enforcement accountability and the protection of constitutional rights.

Tina Ray is represented by John Shoreman and Mario Williams. Michael Roane is represented by Rasalie Fessier, as he is deputy of the Augusta County Sheriff.

The case, Tina Ray vs. Michael Roane, No. 22-2120, is set to be closely watched as it moves back to the district court for further proceedings.

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