Read updated witness accounts at the end of the original story. Joseph Potts feared for his wife's and dogs' safety -- as well as his own -- when he emptied three rounds from a Glock 9-mm into a dog at a Clear Lake-area dog park January 25, according to a Harris County Sheriff's Office report.
No charges have been filed against the 26-year-old Potts, who told a Sheriff's deputy that an aggressive pit bull at the Bay Area Dog Park attacked his dog, despite repeated attempts to kick the dog away. At least one of the bullets shattered the dog's left front leg, and another lodged near his spine. The dog, named Diesel, was rushed to VCA Animal Hospital, where he died.
A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors are waiting for Sheriff's investigators to complete their investigation before deciding whether charges are warranted. (Potts has a valid concealed handgun license.)
Here's what the 6'7", 230-lb. Potts told the responding deputy, according to the report:
"Mr. Potts stated he had entered into the dog park with his wife and two dogs. Mr. Potts advised while inside the dog park his wife had one of their dogs on the leash and he was throwing a ball with his other dog. Mr. Potts said that a Pit Bull type dog approached his dog and began to get aggressive. Mr. Potts said he was not able to get the dog to leave them alone and stated that the dog became more and more aggressive as time passed until the dogs were growling and beginning to fight. Mr. Potts said he attempted to get the dog off of his dog by kicking at it. Mr. Potts said he kicked the dog away but again it kept coming at him and his dog. Mr. Potts stated he began to fear for the safety of his dogs, his wife and himself. Mr. Potts then drew his handgun, striking him three times. Mr. Potts said he never saw anyone attempting to get the dog away from him and said at that point he was in fear of being injured by the dog. Mr. Potts said he was sorry, stated he didn't want to harm the dog but felt he had no choice."
The breed of Potts' dog was not listed in the report.
One witness, who claimed to see the incident from "20 to 30 yards away," said he "didn't feel there was a need for the dog to be shot." The witness also said "he observed [Potts] to take aim and stated it [looked] like he was taking his time."
Another witnessed claimed to have been about 35 feet away when the dog was shot. He told the deputy that he "observed the two dogs come together several times 'like dogs do.'" The witness said Potts tried to "separate the dogs several times," but that Diesel kept coming back.
The witness also confusingly said that the dog's owner was "too far away to do anything," but also said the owner was 15 feet away.
Here's what Karey Wilson, who brought Diesel to the park, said happened, according to the report. (Wilson is the owner's mother).
"Ms. Wilson said it's been awhile since Diesel has been able to run so she set him loose to run. Ms. Wilson advised she heard the dogs growling and observed the man that shot her dog kicking at him. Ms. Wilson said the man and his dogs were in between Diesel and herself. Ms. Wilson said she yelled for the man to 'just grab his collar.' Ms. Wilson advised she then watched the man pull a gun and shoot Diesel."
Our initial impression of this is probably the same as yours: What the hell? We've spent a lot of time in dog parks and have seen a handful of hairy situations, but nothing that required a bullet. (The folks at a Facebook site launched in Diesel's memory are especially outraged.)
Diesel's owner, Randall Livingston, told us he got Diesel when the dog was six weeks old, and said Diesel has never had an aggressive incident.
"Obviously, it's a very challenging and tough time for us, but we appreciate the community's support," Livingston said. "We want to encourage that people post positive things [on the Bring Justice for Diesel page]....We're trying to stay positive, and we have faith in the Harris County Sheriff's Department."
He called Diesel "an absolutely amazing, beautiful dog...when anybody came in contact with him, when you were walking down the street, and they were driving...they would roll down the windows and just comment on him. How beautiful he is, how sweet he is....Man, it's a bad deal. It really is."
We reached out to Potts and will update if we hear back.
See the following page for more witness accounts.
UPDATE 1/27/15 @ 3:00 p.m.: Today we heard from a witness who gave a statement to police, but the story he gave us conflicts in part with what's in the incident report. The witnesses asked not to be named.
In Monday's story, we shared the deputy's version of what a witness who was "20 to 30 yards away." However, this witness said he told the investigator that he was 8 feet away.
"I had a perfect view. I stood there at a perfect zero-degree angle, straight ahead. Everything was right in front of me," the witness said.
Here's what he said what he saw: Diesel and Potts' German shepherd were play-wrestling, "and [Potts] kicks the dog and tells it to fuck off. And at that moment, the dog whimpered...and then [Potts'] dog comes and reinitiates to play....And at that moment, [Potts] pulls out his gun, takes aim. One bullet. Pow. And then the dog cries. Re-aims the gun." Potts fired two more rounds.
The witness alleged that Potts didn't hesitate, and added, "He had no remorse. He held his gun in the air as my wife asked [what did you do]? And he said, 'What do you think I just did? These are real fucking bullets.'"
Potts' wife was approximately 15-20 yards away at the time and was never in danger, the witness claimed.
The witness added that there is no physical evidence of a fight between the dogs.
"Where are the dogs injured? When was there, like, any injury to the dog or to the human?" he said.
He said Potts said, "Control your fucking dog," after shooting Diesel. He alleged that Potts just had a smug smile on his face. Not once did he say he was sorry. Not once did he ever say, 'Check on that dog, make sure he's OK'...he was aggressive....All of us were kind of afraid to keep him in the park, but we had to. All of us were saying, like, 'Don't let him get away.'"
As for Potts' assertion -- per the incident report -- that he called 911 himself, the witness told us that that didn't happen until all the other witnesses pulled their phones out first.
He got the impression that the officers who arrived were generally on Potts' side, and when there was a discrepancy among witnesses over how many shots were fired, the witness told us that "They said, 'it's not a human, we don't need to count the bullets....They were like, 'Nah, it's not like CSI.'"
We also heard from a woman Tuesday who claimed she was only a few feet away from the shooting, but that when she tried to tell an officer what she saw, the officer only told her that Potts had a right to carry a gun.
She told us: "I tried to explain, like -- kids are coming to the park. Nobody's life was in danger. He put everyone's life in danger...and the cop, he was like, 'I'm not going to talk to you.'"
The woman said she was still shaken up by the shooting, and said that she felt Potts endangered everyone in the park by firing his weapon.
"He had no right to put us in this situation," she said.
The woman said that after the shots were fired, "The owner said, 'Is it a real bullet?' And [Potts] said, 'What do you think? Of course I'm going to put [a] real fucking bullet in my gun."
She said that she knew Diesel from the park, and that while he could play rough, he was not vicious. She said he often played with the woman's chihuahua mixes, and that the dogs made growling sounds, but not out of aggression. She said that's what Diesel was doing with Potts' dog.
"I am a dog owner, and my dogs play all the time and make that sound," she said. "It looked so normal to me....He was overreacting." She said Potts grabbed Diesel by his blue harness and separated him from his own dog, but that the dogs started playing again. That's when Potts kicked Diesel, the woman said.
She said she approached Potts after she saw him kick Diesel, and that's when Potts fired the first shot. Then Potts "went two more steps and, like, I cannot forget the hate in his face."
Then she saw Potts shoot the dog twice more.
"He was so proud -- that's the worst part," she said, adding that when she came within two feet of Potts, "He still had his gun in his hand, and he was screaming [in] my face."
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She said, "The dog was limping. He went under the tree. He laid down, and that poor guy was like...blood came from his mouth, and his owner turned to me, and she said, 'Promise me, you're going to tell the cops...promise me'....And I waited for those cops to come, I waited for those people to listen to me. They did not listen."
We asked Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Thomas Gilliland if deputies interviewed every witness at the scene. He told us in an email that "When a case is referred to investigators, they will try to contact the witnesses listed in the initial patrol report. The patrol deputies try to find as many [witnesses] as possible for the investigator to follow up with."
Uh, OK. Unfortunately, the woman who told us she was ignored is not listed in the incident report, so how could investigators follow up with her? Or is she full of shit? If she is, then it would be nice if HCSO could rule her out. Somehow, though, we don't think that's going to happen.
We left another voicemail for Potts, but it's possible that the ringing phone made him fear for his safety and he shot it.