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Clairton settles suit in dog-shooting case

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 4:41 a.m.

A warrant remains active for a Clairton woman even as council members, at the advice of the city manager, approved a settlement in a 2011 case where her dog was killed by city police.

Manager Howard Bednar said the settlement was for economic reasons, saving the town money in legal fees.

“The city does not believe the officer did anything wrong,” Bednar said. “The insurance company for the city has decided that paying a minimal amount is going to cost less than going to court. This will put it to rest once and for all.”

Michelle Leonard, of N. Sixth Street, was seeking more than $25,000 for the loss of Zeus, her 17-year-old pit bull, according to court documents filed in March 2012 in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Civil Division.

The suit stated that on Oct. 9, 2011, around 5 p.m., Zeus slipped out of Leonard's residence and was loose in the neighborhood. A resident along the 600 block of N. State Street saw the dog walking on the street. According to the suit, the dog was calm and presented no danger.

Two Clairton officers, one of whom was Sgt. James Carozza, arrived in a police van approximately 50 feet from where the resident was, and she watched officers shoot the dog, the suit stated.

Carozza allegedly shot the dog twice while in the police vehicle, and another officer who was outside the vehicle shot it again.

Another resident reported he heard three gunshots come from outside his house. The suit stated that resident noticed the dog was shot, and knew it to be friendly and mild-mannered.

The suit claimed Carozza shot and killed Zeus without due cause, provocation or justification. It also claimed Carozza failed to seize, detain or restrain the dog with nonviolent measures.

It alleged Carozza discharged a firearm in a residential neighborhood without any warning.

Leonard was found guilty of letting the dog run loose in connection with the incident at a summary trial on Feb. 13, 2012, according to court documents from Glassport Magisterial District Judge Armand A. Martin's office.

At the same trial, Leonard was found not guilty of failure to keep dog licenses and failure to have the dog vaccinated.

The judge ordered Leonard to pay $369.50 and a $25 payment was made on April 13, 2012.

A warrant was issued for her arrest on June 8, 2012, for failure to pay the remaining $344.50.

Judge's office officials said on Wednesday that amount has yet to be paid, and the warrant remains active.

Bednar said he could not disclose the amount of the settlement because Leonard has yet to sign the document.

“You need two to tango,” Bednar said. “We're saying we'll dance.”

Councilors approved the agreement at Tuesday night's meeting in a 3-0 vote. Councilman Terry Julian and Councilwoman Kathy Tachoir were absent.

Police Chief Robert Hoffman declined to comment.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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