A San Francisco judge has dropped all assault charges against a 57-year-old man whose service dog was shot by a police officer.
It happened a few blocks from the city's St. Patrick's Day parade, when an officer directing traffic said that a pit bull lunged at him so he shot the dog in the leg.
Donald Merchant told KTVU that his dog, Pretty Girl, had to have her leg amputated as a result of the shooting and now he's considering suing SFPD.
"She's my life," said Merchant today, as he pet the two-and-half year-old pit bull, who responded with a barrage of sloppy wet kisses.
Merchant says Pretty Girl helps him cope with PTSD and life on San Francisco streets as a homeless man. Merchant has suffered from chronic back pain, back surgery and bouts of depression for years. A doctor provided documentation to a judge to prove that Pretty Girl was a service dog classified as an emotional support animal.
"She's all I got," said Merchant wiping a tear. "My family lives more than 1,000 miles away and [Pretty Girl] is all I got."
Surveillance video taken of the corner of Kearny and Post Streets just before noon on March 11th shows Pretty Girl wagging her tail and sitting on the corner as Merchant sits nearby. Cars obstruct the view of the shooting.
"And then the next thing I hear is a loud noise and then my dog squealing," said Merchant.
Officer Jordan Townsend, who was directing traffic at the intersection, said Merchant's dog was threatening him so he shot her in the leg. Video from another security camera shows people along the sidewalk turning their heads when the shot is fired. Merchant is screaming, "Why'd you shoot my dog, man?" Pretty Girl can be seen running away, limping on her front right paw.
Nita Ybarra, who spoke to us by phone, witnessed the incident. "There's blood everywhere and the poor dog is yelping and crying," said Ybarra. "An officer said, 'Well it looked like he was going to charge him," which is baloney! And the scariest part was that there were hundreds of people walking... he could have shot a human being."
Merchant was charged with two felony counts of assault on an officer and assault with a deadly weapon; the weapon being Pretty Girl. He ended up spending the next 16 days in jail, while Pretty Girl underwent surgery to amputate her leg.
"I mean, this is Timmy and Lassie," cried Merchant. "You know, I would have gave my arm for the dog."
"The police officer said that Mr. Merchant said, 'Get em, boy!' to his dog, [but] his dog is a female named Pretty Girl," said Tamara Barak Aparton from the SF Public Defender's Office. "Then the officer later changed his story to say that Mr. Merchant just said, 'Get em!'" From our perspective, it is beyond heartbreaking that this man, who had his service dog shot in front of him was then criminally charged with two felonies that could have sent him away to prison."
"I understand now that the [officer] had only been on the job for four months so you know, he panicked," said
Merchant. "But I'm angry. People now call my dog 'Tripod' and that ain't right. Her name is Pretty Girl."
A judge tossed out all charges against Merchant last week, but the 57-year-old says he and his dog have been traumatized and he's thinking of suing SFPD.
SFPD declined to comment for this story, saying there was still a pending internal investigation.
Ybarra says the officer "grossly overreacted."
"And to have no mercy for poor Donald!" said Ybarra. "They treated him like a thing. And it was terrible, just terrible. I hope I never have to experience anything like that again in my life."
Merchant says since the shooting, Pretty Girl has become nervous.
"That's the hardest part of it," he said, crying. "To see how she was and see how she is now. And why I didn't protect her, I mean how'd it happen, know what I mean?"
Ybarra said she felt so badly for Merchant and the way police treated him that she decided to create a
GoFundMe page to try to raise $30,000 to help Merchant and Pretty Girl find a permanent home. Right now, Merchant has been crashing at his friend's apartment. https://www.gofundme.com/help-pretty-girls-recovery
"You a good dog? You a good dog? That's my baby," Merchant cooed as the pair walked toward Union Square.
"You're the best dog in the whole wide world," he beamed, tugging on Pretty Girl's leash one last time.