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Investigation exonerates officer who shot dog, Wyckoff police chief says

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YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Wyckoff police officer who fatally shot a resident’s dog while investigating a burglary at first tried to run from the backyard to escape before firing his gun when the German Shepherd grabbed hold of his boot, Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin C. Fox said tonight.

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CLICK HERE for FULL TEXT: “ Statement Regarding Shooting of Do g by Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin C. Fox

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“Although this was a family pet, those images of a family dog are not the same image the officer had when he was attacked by an animal that has been described by the owner as a guard dog,” Fox wrote in a public letter disclosing details from the fatal shooting.

“As a result, I have exonerated him from any claim questioning his truthfulness in this incident,” the chief concluded.

Presenting such a detailed, lengthy statement is a rare move for a local police chief.

“Many facts have been misrepresented and it is my intention for this report to provide a level of transparency to the investigation that the dog’s owner deserves,” Fox’s 4½-page public letter begins.

“Additionally, due to the widespread media coverage and social media statements, I believe that it is in the public interest to provide an understanding of how this investigation has been handledby this police agency,” it says. “The integrity of any police department is fundamental to the community it serves.”

A Bergen County Communications Center dispatcher sent Officer Kyle Ferreira to the correct address at 621 Lawlins Road after the homeowner went to headquarters to report a burglary but the officer heard it wrong, Fox said. When he repeated back the wrong address, the dispatcher didn’t correct him, the chief said.

The dispatcher also incorrectly referred to the burglary as days old but was never told that by anyone, he emphasized.

The officer knocked on the door, didn’t get a response, then entered an unlocked gate to check the property.

“There was no sign to indicate the possible presence of a dog,” Fox wrote.

In back, Ferreira found an open ground-floor window.

With no cars in the driveway, nobody answering and “his observation of what he believed to be the point of entry in a burglary,” the chief wrote, “his concerns about what exactly was taking place caused him to unholster his firearm.

“Attorney General guidelines allow for such action when the circumstances create a reasonable belief that it may be necessary to use the firearm,” Fox said.

He then emphasized: “Even though the dispatcher incorrectly informed the officer that the event was days old, a police officer is going to evaluate a situation based on their personal observations at that precise moment in time.

“Those personal observations and the requirement to protect oneself from potential harm are why a police officer should not be guided solely by the words of a radio transmission,” the chief added. “The dispatcher stated it happened quite awhile in the past, like days. What does that mean? Was the homeowner on vacation for days and just discovered this? Why would a window be left standing open for days? Is a burglar still in the home.

“The officer did not know the full details of this situation. For his personal protection while he was there, alone; he chose to unholster his firearm.”

Ferreira then heard “what he described as aggressive barking of a dog coming from the inside of the home,” Fox wrote. “A full grown German Shepherd jumped of the window and charged at the officer in an aggressive manner.”

Ferreira then “began running towards the gate that he entered in an effort to escape,” the chief added.

“Near the edge of the patio area that he had been standing on, the dog bit him on his right boot[,] latching on to him.”

The AG’s guidelines allow officers to use deadly force to protect themselves when faced with “imminent danger of death or serious body harm.”

Given the Shepherd’s size and aggressiveness, Fox wrote, the officer felt “that if the dog took him down it could have mauled him[,] causing serious bodily injury.”

Ferriera fired four rounds, which were heard in rapid successor by a police lieutenant who went to the scene, the chief said.

“Officer Ferreira stated that he believes that the dog let him go after the first shot but it continued to come at him,” Fox wrote. “He stopped firing after the dog turned and went back towards the house.

“The officer then exited the fenced area through the gate he entered an radioed for assistance.”

Although people claimed on social media the next day that police were lying, Fox said no one came forward, so he sent officers out to try and find witnesses.

Canvassing the neighboring homes, they found a woman who lives across the street who said she watched from a first-floor window that Fox said “provided a limited partial view of the rear yard[,] as much of the rear yard area was blocked by the house itself.”

Fox emphasized that he was not discrediting the woman but simply confirming “what, exactly, she did observe.”

During her interview with detectives, he said, “she stated that she was only about 90% certain that she observed the entire incident. She further stated that she was pre-occupied with a grandchild and may have turned away at some point.

“She also stated that she never saw the officer unholster his firearm, and she did not see the dog biting the officer,” the chief added.

“The detectives concluded that as the officer ran from the rear portion of the home to a point that the witness could see, she likely did observe the officer after the dog let him go and observed one or more gunshots.

“This was an event that unfolded in only seconds.”

Given the nature of the comments made by citizens, Fox sid he enlisted oversight assistance from Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli to “elminate any concerns or allegations of a bias[ed] investigation.”

They advised him to conduct an internal affairs investigaiton, which he said he did.

The investigators confirmed that Fereira went to the wrong house, which “admittedly…makes the shooting of the dog more difficult to accept,” Fox wrote.

The “focused on the issue of whether the officer was being truthful” and “uncovered nothing to suggest otherwise,” the chief said.

The account he immediately gave while clearly distraught about what just happened was consistent with his written report and his responses to investigators, Fox said.

The chief also noted that he “personally reached out to the family” and was prepared to visit them with Mayor Kevin Rooney to “sit down with them face to face, look themin the eye and tell them what we knew at that point had happened.

“They declined that request,” he wrote — adding that he contacted them again in an attempt to have that discussion.

An attorney for the family then contacted the township, after which Fox said he was directed by the township attorney and insurance carrier that “all communications must be limited to attorneys.”

“[W]e are saddened that this incident ever took place,” he wrote. “We are mindful that the family has lost a pet dog that they loved. We are upset that an error in hearing an incorrect house number put us on that property[,] which allowed the successive events to unfold.”

Fox said he is “responsible for the actions of my officers each and every day.”

He said he has spoke with former Fairview police chief Frank DelVecchio, the director of the Bergen County Communications Center, and “agreed to a dispatch protocol change that will minimize the possibility of an officer going to an incorrect street address.

“The Wyckoff Police Department is not defined by this incident,” Fox conclued. “The officeres of this agency serve this community proudly and with integrity. As with every police officer in this state and nation, police face many challenges on a daily basis.

“We’ll continue to serve with pride and integrity.”

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