ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Kimberly Vanderbilt’s pitbull, Audi, still isn’t the same three years after an Orange County deputy shot her in his backyard.
“Three bullets hit her,” Vanderbilt told Investigative Reporter Daralene Jones. “She couldn’t walk, she didn’t want to take the antibiotics, she cried, she was in pain. It was horrible.”
The nightmare started the day she spotted Orange County deputies in her backyard. They had walked through her gate, past the symbol and a sign warning “Beware of Dogs.”
“I went and opened the window and the deputy, he did this, so I’m thinking, ‘I’m in danger someone is going to start shooting.’”
Moments later, she heard gunfire.
“I heard shots, five shots, I screamed ran out my room, Audi was laying down bleeding,” Vanderbilt said as she described the scene from 2018.
Court records show deputies were attempting to serve an arrest warrant for a cell phone robbery suspect they believed was staying at the home behind Vanderbilt’s.
“I’m thinking I’m in danger, had to be an emergency, you went through private property opened the gate and went in, and it wasn’t.”
In Vanderbilt’s federal lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the two deputies, her attorney argues citizens have a right to be free from unreasonable entry unto their private property.
Further, it states, citizens have a right to an enhanced quality of life, which includes the right to not have their property unreasonably damaged. The unreasonable damage to property is a violation of the standard operating procedures of OCSO, state, and federal laws, according to the lawsuit. The attorney also points out Vanderbilt had a right to enhanced quality of life, which includes the right to withhold consent to law enforcement officers on her private property, absent exigent circumstances.
Vanderbilt says she was told the dog was shot because the deputy was protecting his K-9 partner from Audi, who Vanderbilt said, at the time, was 40 pounds.
“I said your dog is three times bigger than she is, what are you doing in my backyard,” Vanderbilt stated.
Orange County told us they don’t comment on pending litigation, but 9 Investigates reviewed its policy related to executing warrants. It states that a deputy can secure the perimeter of the location to prevent a suspect’s escape. The concern being that a suspect could flee from the back or side of their home.
Vanderbilt’s attorney argues in the lawsuit that the deputy failed to use great caution and careful consideration of the circumstances when entering into the gated private backyard of a residence with the K9 that contained multiple signs indicating canines were on the premises. She believes the intended purpose was not for tracking, searching, crowd control, public relations or public safety and therefore, the K-9 wasn’t needed to enter the private backyard.
In the department’s firearms policy the only language specific to killing animals explains a deputy may discharge their firearm to kill a seriously wounded or dangerous animal when all other disposition is impractical. If possible, it states, the deputy shall contact a sergeant and obtain approval and exhaust all efforts to notify the owner.
“In my professional opinion, no, they had no right to be in her backyard, that was the first mistake. The second mistake was walking right past a beware of dog sign, and not making prior arrangements with the owner, before entering her property,” attorney Marcy LaHart stated during an interview with Jones.
Vanderbilt has a $4,000 bill from the vet, for Audi’s care, but the money doesn’t compare to another nightmare that’s crossed her mind.
“If I wasn’t here, and my son heard a gunshot he would’ve ran outside with his gun, we do have license to carry, he would’ve ran outside and they probably would’ve shot him,” Vanderbilt stated.
We reached out to an independent property rights attorney for this story. Mark Lippman told us there is a Florida statute that allows access to land by law enforcement, but only under certain circumstances. In this case, he doesn’t believe protocol was followed because had it been there would not have been the necessity of shooting the woman’s dog. She could have secured the dog quickly before anything would have occurred, Lippman said.