CANTON – In what started as a response to a 911 call reporting a suspicious vehicle in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, a Henderson County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an adopted foster dog at its home in the East Flat Rock community, according to dog owners and the sheriff’s office.
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It all started when a neighbor called in a suspicious vehicle parked in the driveway of Paula Oppedisano-Pinkerton and Stuart Pinkerton’s home in Henderson County. According to the sheriff’s office, the caller said, “the home was for sale, and they didn’t believe anyone should be present at the home currently.”
Meanwhile, Oppedisano-Pinkerton was asleep and alone with her two dogs at the house, where she and her husband have lived for the past three years, she told the Citizen Times Nov. 28. The two are living in the home while in the process of selling and moving to a new place.
The Hyundai Santa Fe, which the unknown caller reported as suspicious, had been parked there most nights for the past three months since the couple purchased it in September, Oppedisano-Pinkerton said.
The resident said she had just woken up and let her two dogs out in the fenced-in backyard. When she walked into her kitchen, she noticed bright headlights shining in through the window with no flashing police lights.
“I’m like who the heck is here at 2 o’clock in the morning?” Oppedisano-Pinkerton said. “Then I hear dogs start barking and the next thing a heard were three gunshots.”
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From where she stood, all Oppedisano-Pinkerton could see was her dog, Steffie, lying on the ground. After going outside and asking the deputy if they had killed her dog, she said she panicked and ran back inside, locking the door behind her.
Steffie, who was saved three years ago from being euthanized at an overcrowded shelter in Rowan County by Amy McIntosh of a Canton animal sanctuary called Misfit Mountain, was shot three times, once “in between her eyes” from 4 feet away, Pinkerton said.
“During the investigation the deputy encountered an aggressive Pit Bull Terrier that had escaped its containment,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement posted to Facebook. “The canine charged the deputy who was put in the unfortunate position of dispatching the animal to protect himself.”
In response to Citizen Times questions, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Johnny Duncan said, “the statement sent out by the sheriff on our social media pages is the only comment we will have on this incident.”
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‘The system failed Steffie’: Unanswered questions and concerns about protocol
While she was in her home, Oppedisano-Pinkerton said she saw flashlights beaming into the house and stuck her head outside to ask if the deputy was going to take her dog’s body. The deputy responded that they don’t do that, but he would move Steffie to their backyard.
“He basically comes, he shoots and kills my dog, drags the body to the backyard and leaves,” the owner said. “He left no card, no report, no ‘call about this tomorrow,’ nothing.”
Pinkerton acknowledged that the deputy felt threatened by his dog, which he said had a “fierce growl,” but questioned why non-lethal force, like a taser, wasn’t used. But Pinkerton’s biggest question was, why did the call necessitate a response in the middle of the night in the first place and why weren’t the facts verified beforehand?
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According to what the sheriff sergeant told him, “About 30 seconds elapsed between the time they arrived, and the time Steffie was shot. I don’t think they had a chance to really get their feet down and figure out what was going on. But my question remains, shouldn’t you have figured out what was going on before you came out to my house?”
According to the owners, the sheriff’s office never called the property, never called the realtor’s number listed on the sign out front to see if someone was living there, never checked if the car was registered to the property owners, never announced that they were there.
The owners of Misfit Mountain, Tera and Amy McIntosh, along with six community members gathered Nov. 28 at the mountainside animal sanctuary in Haywood County, where dogs and cats are fostered from renovated shipping containers. They were calling for justice for Steffie, sharing their condolences and concerns about how the situation was handled.
“The system failed Steffie in multiple ways,” Tera McIntosh said at the gathering. “There were 10 different ways the situation could’ve been handled. We have to fix the loopholes in the system.”
Another unknown is whether the gate to the fence was left open and the dog ran out to the deputy or whether the deputy went to the fence first. Oppedisano-Pinkerton said she remembers closing the gate after getting groceries earlier that day but couldn’t say for sure if it was opened or closed at the time. The incident was recorded on officer bodycam footage, and McIntosh said, “we would like to see that.”
“This is the second time this has happened in the two years from the same department,” Amy McIntosh said. “Last time, the sheriff went to the wrong house and shot and killed their dog as well.”
The Citizen Times requested the incident report for the latest dog shooting as well as the deputy response in 2021 that allegedly led to a different dog fatality.
“I just want to see transparency,” Misfit Mountain volunteer Melissa Hartnagel said, adding that she’s pro-law enforcement as a retiree from the Michigan Department of Corrections. “Just show us some transparency, show us what actually happened if it happened how they are posting it on their Facebook page.”
Oppedisano-Pinkerton said Steffie was “so sweet and happy and excited. She was an example of life itself. For my husband and I, it was like exactly what was missing in our home.”
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Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober