Wrinkles, In Time

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

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It strikes us that Judge Merrick Garland missed an opportunity when he “bailed out,” to use Politico’s phrase, on the case of the dog shot by police officers in the Columbia District. The poor pooch barked at officers who barged into its owner’s home. So the officers executed more than the search warrant. The dog’s owner sued. A district judge threw out the case but the federal appeals judges who ride circuit in the District reinstated it this month, without Judge Garland’s help.

That strikes us as a missed chance for Judge Garland, who’s been nominated to the Supreme Court, to let the Senate know whether he can keep his constitutional head in the thick of a search warrant. We don’t mean to suggest that the case is more important than those cases where police officers are accused of shooting human beings. Nor do we mean to suggest that dogs are always innocent (we’ve personally witnessed a dog’s ability to scheme and a mutt’s misery at being caught in an act).

We do mean to suggest that it would have been useful to all of us to see what Judge Garland might have made of the death of the dog in question, whose name was Wrinkles. After all, two of the most distinguished riders of the District of Columbia circuit, David Tatel and Lawrence Silberman, did stick with the case. They noted that Judge Garland was a member of the court panel at the time the case was argued but did not participate in the opinion.

There is an account of it by Josh Gerstein, formerly of the Sun and now at Politico. He quotes the court as suggesting that “Wrinkles’ barking at police — as would most any self-respecting dog—to be of limited probative value to the question of exactly what happened.” We haven’t done a double-blind study, but the Sun believes this to be the first time in American law that a major United States court has referred to a dog as “self-respecting.” We call that progress.

The events before the court began on a June evening in 2010, when nine officers showed up at the home of Marietta Robinson after her grandson was arrested with marijuana. Mrs. Robinson testified that she heard loud knocking on the door. Wrinkles started barking to let her know someone was there, she said. Mrs. Robinson asked the lead officer if she could put the pooch in the back yard or the bathroom, and was told to put the dog in the latter.

The leading officer, as the court outlined various testimony in respect of the facts, then yelled to the officers behind him that there was a dog in the bathroom, but a trailing officer testified that she didn’t hear the warning. She opened the bathroom door. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but Wrinkles hauled out of the bathroom and eventually as many as more than half a dozen or more shots were fired, and Wrinkles was mortally wounded.

Once the dog was dead, according to Mrs. Robinson, the officers covered it — and the dog’s blood, which was all over — with Mrs. Robinson’s clean laundry. Blood and bloody handprints were all over, curtains, couch, water cooler, pictures. An officer, the court said, acknowledged the police “did nothing to clean up the house,” with a captain announcing “the dog’s blood is her property” and that she would have to clean up the canine gore.

The court ruled against Mrs. Robinson in respect of the officer who fired the most shots, but not in respect of the officer who opened the bathroom door and whose boot was latched onto by the dog. That will have to go to trial. It is not our purpose here to solve this case — merely to note what a remarkable country wherein one of its most distinguished appellate courts can turn itself into knots in respect of the self-respect of a dog. And observe that it would have been nice to see how the jurist who could be the next to sit on the Supreme Court would have handled it.


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