Liberty Hill family wants justice for Vinny

1015682_175368889306820_800230028_oBy CHARLEY WILKISON

The Leander Police Department is  responding to a firestorm of criticism this week after one of its officers shot a dog while attempting to serve a warrant for a felony parole violation near Liberty Hill Tuesday.

The incident turned into a public relations nightmare for the department after it was discovered the officer was at the wrong address.

“I asked what he was doing coming into my yard and he said he was there to serve a warrant,” wrote Renata Simmons in an email to The Independent hours after the shooting. “We have been here nearly nine years and no one by that name had ever resided here. He was at the wrong house.”

Lt. Derral Partin, a spokesperson for Leander PD, told The Independent Wednesday that police “believe the family in their insistence that the person of interest was not there and that they do not know him.”

Officer Woodson Blase, a six-year veteran of the department, is a full time warrant officer who began the search for the unidentified male at a last known address in Cedar Park, Lt. Partin said. The male, who was wanted on a Leander municipal warrant as well as a state felony warrant, was evicted from the Cedar Park address last February. After further investigation, the Liberty Hill address was discovered, having been used as late as May, he added.

Lt. Partin said that Officer Blase described the scene where the incident occurred as a large property where there were several residences initially showing the same address.

The officer stopped at the first house he came to, knocked on the door once, then when no one responded inside the home he knocked again and again received no response. Lt. Partin said that Officer Blase then followed police protocol by following a path to the back yard to see if the suspect might be in the rear of the house.

Once in the back yard, Lt. Partin said the scene turned critical. Officer Blase reported that he was accosted by two dogs, “both growling, running, their teeth showing. Officer Blase believed an attack was eminent,” said Lt. Partin.

He said the officer ordered the dogs down, but they did not respond. Lt. Partin said the department believes Blase followed his training.

“Officer Blase said he saw nobody, heard nobody, he especially did not see or hear any children there in the back yard,” Lt. Partin stated.

Mrs. Simmons, however, said her six-year-old terminally ill grandson was seated at a picnic table by the back door at the time of the shooting.

Believing he was under attack and the dogs were not responding to his commands, Lt. Partin said the officer fired at the lead animal and the second dog ran away.

“The officer said that they charged him. They always run to the gate to greet anyone and they are both overly social,” said Mrs. Simmons.

Lt. Partin said the officer began backing toward the gate when two people exited the back door of the home. He directed them to secure both dogs, which he said they did without incident. He explained his presence and purpose and asked them to show identification. It was after this that the discovery was made that one of the dogs had been  injured by one of the shots fired.

“My grandson came up to me screaming that Vinny (a German shepherd) was bleeding and his hands were covered in blood,” Mrs. Simmons said. “Vinny had a bullet wound in the back of his neck.”

According to Lt. Partin, the police department is conducting a full administrative review of Officer Blase’s actions. The review will include watching the video that was filmed at the scene, taking a full report from the family and allowing them to make a full statement of their view of what happened at their home. The police will also solicit a full report from the veterinarian as to the injuries sustained by the dog.

Mrs. Simmons said she and a neighbor took the dog to a Round Rock veterinarian for emergency treatment.

Meanwhile, Officer Blase remains on the job pending the outcome of the review. While Lt. Partin did not disclose the details of Officer Blase’s police career, he did say that Blase was Special Forces trained and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Lt. Partin said the initial indications are that the officer followed his training and protected himself when he believed he was in danger, but “we intend to thoroughly examine our policies and training.”

“We are not going to give up on justice for our Vinny. Or for our grandson who is having nightmares over the event,” Mrs. Simmons stated. “We feel blessed that Vinny is doing as well as he is and even more blessed that our grandson did not get struck by a misfired bullet.”