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Seeking Justice for All

Dec 08, 2015 02:00PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Aimee L. Cook

Sugar House - The recent court action brought against Brett Olsen, Brian Purvis, Joseph Allen Everett, Tom Edmundson, George S. Pregman and Salt Lake City Corporation by Sean Kendall and his attorney, former Mayor Ross (Rocky) Anderson, had many thinking it was just a money grab. According to the duo, that could not be farther from the truth.  Demanding a jury trial and changes to existing police policies, Anderson and Kendall are hoping that this action will protect other pets and pet owners from having their pets harmed or killed in the way that Geist, Kendall’s beloved dog, was.

On June 28, 2014, in an attempt to locate a missing 3-year-old boy in a Salt Lake City neighborhood, Salt Lake City police officer Brett Olsen entered the backyard of the home of Sean Kendall while Kendall was at work. According to the official complaint filed with the court on Sept. 21, 2015, Olsen allegedly entered without a warrant, made no attempt to check for a dog on the premises and upon doing so  entered unlawfully, which violated Kendall’s constitutional rights. In addition, according to information provided to the Police Civilian Review Board by Olsen, Olsen was able to enter through a closed gate, walk around the yard to a closed shed, search the shed and close the shed before being approached by Geist, the Weimaraner dog and pet of Kendall. 

“I feel so strongly about this [court action], not just because Geist was killed, but the way that it happened,” Kendall said. “The way Salt Lake City handled the situation and the lack of accountability, their explanation of extenuating circumstances to circumvent my right to privacy; there was no reason to believe the missing child was even outside of the home, let alone in my backyard. What I have learned through this process is that as a policy, if there is a missing child or a missing or endangered person, they search people’s backyards. As a policy, the policy itself is unconstitutional.”

Kendall maintains that the monetary amount asked for in this case, $2 million, is the only currency he is offered due to our legal system. The money is just a number to him, to show how deeply he feels about the issue. He isn’t expecting to get that amount necessarily; Utah law considers animals ‘property.’ 

“People will say that $2 million is a lot of money, but they don’t realize what I have gone through to try and create change and get this prevented,” Kendall said. “The amount of money is just a number to prove how important this issue is to me. At the end of the day, I hope that [officer] training and policy change are what come out of this action.”

According to Kendall, a study done by the Department of Justice, canine division, says that 92 percent of all animal encounters can be resolved non-lethally, protecting the safety of the animal and the officer. Kendall believes that if Brent Olson had been trained to look over the fence for signs of a dog, he would have noticed dog toys, a dog bowl and other indications that an animal may be present. 

Former Salt Lake mayor, Ross ‘Rocky’ Anderson, is Kendall’s attorney. He too is passionate about the injustice bestowed upon Kendall and Geist. He maintains the officer performed an unconstitutional search, which resulted in an unconstitutional seizure of the dog.

“This whole thing has been extremely tragic and has caused Sean Kendall unbelievable heartache and depression,” Anderson said. “Also the anger he has felt when people say, ‘Just take a couple hundred dollars and get a new dog’ is as hurtful to him as someone saying that about a child.’”

When Anderson was getting ready to file the lawsuit against the officers and the city, he discovered, under Utah statute, that the Utah Legislature in 2009 passed a bill that stated before anyone can bring a lawsuit against an law enforcement officer, the person injured by that officer first has to file a bond with the court in an amount set by the judge to be estimated attorneys’ fees for the officer. 

“We filed the declaratory judgment action attacking the constitutionality of that horrendously discriminatory legislation that basically attaches a huge price tag to obtain any justice to those injured at the hands of law enforcement officers. It took nine months until the judge finally found that Sean is impecunious under the terms of another Utah statute that he did not have to file the bond but did have to pay a $300 fee under another statute that attached a price to pursue ones claims.”

Anderson is currently appealing the ruling because he believes the statute [bond for estimated cost for officers defense] is unconstitutional and he would like it removed from the books altogether. 

Early on, Kendall was offered a $10,000 settlement from the city, which he declined. 

“For Sean, he is not going to allow the city to pay a $10,000 license to violate the constitution and kill his dog,” Anderson said. “The most vital importance to Sean, and to me as his counsel, is that there be major changes in the polices and practices, as well as accountability in the Salt Lake City Police Department.”  

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