During his fifteen years on the city's police force, Ofcr. Michael Flynn has worked some of Miami's meanest streets. But until one day in Morningside in early March, he had never had occasion to fire his gun in the line of duty.
"I've worked narco-undercover, riots, and been shot at many times. I've pulled my gun out hundreds of times," Flynn says. "And look what happens -- I have to pull my gun out just to shoot a dog."
The dog, a Belgian shepherd, is dead. But the fallout from the incident lingers in the form of an insurance claim filed by Flynn, who claims he shot the dog in self-defense, and a lawsuit threatened by the late canine's owner, who contends that the officer and the City of Miami are liable for her loss.
The unfortunate encounter took place on the afternoon of March 1. Mary Lyons-Stanley was about to steer her Mercedes into her driveway after work when she saw a man on a white bicycle apparently trying to break into her second car, a Jaguar parked on NE Sixth Court, in front of her house. She honked at the man to shoo him off, and then watched as the brazen fellow pedaled to her neighbor's car. She pursued him and honked again. The contest continued for five blocks, until Lyons-Stanley had chased the man into Morningside Park.
When she finally pulled into her driveway, Lyons-Stanley thought, "Maybe I should be a good neighbor and call the police. Tell them there's a black man on a white bicycle that's trying to steal cars in the neighborhood. So I called and told them to send a police officer over to the park."
The dispatcher asked Lyons-Stanley for her address. "Why do you need my address? Just send someone to the park," she replied before reluctantly -- and now regrettably -- providing her address. That was at 3:10 p.m.
Nearly an hour and a half later, Officer Flynn was dispatched to Lyons-Stanley's address, which is out of his normal patrol zone. Through the wrought-iron front gate, he peered at the 1923 Spanish-style house nestled in a trim tropical setting, the Mercedes parked in the driveway. Then he parted the gate and stepped toward the house.
At the side door, he knocked. No answer. He knocked again.
Lyons-Stanley was in her back yard painting the garage when Bingo, a 35-pound mixed bull terrier, and Basha, a 65-pound black Belgian shepherd, came for her. "I heard the girls barking in the front yard and they ran to get me," she recalls. "I climbed down the ladder and said, 'Let's go.'"
By then Flynn had started back to his patrol car to report in.
"I got to the rear of the Mercedes when a little dog, a pit bull terrier, snapped at my leg, biting the heel of my boot," he recalls. "Then a German shepherd creeped around the car, grabbed my hand, and just shook it. Mind you, it happened so fast -- it lunged for my left hand like a vise grip and wouldn't let go. I took a step back and was, like, ooohh-aaahhh, and discharged two rounds, hitting the dog. The dog on my leg scurried away."
Stunned, Lyons-Stanley berated Flynn through tears: "Why did you come in my yard? Why did you kill her?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Flynn told her as neighbors began to gather at the scene. He showed her his hand: No broken bones, but several puncture wounds.
"He walked through a secured gate into my property. There was nothing so urgent that he couldn't have called me. I've never had anyone walk on the property in the two and a half years we've been here," she argues. "Both dogs are trained to bark and come back to wherever I am. They did exactly what I trained them to do. They were protecting their property. Basha was one of a kind. She was very protective of me, very close to me. She just lay there whimpering, like she was refusing to die until he got off the property."
Richard Parsons, Lyons-Stanley's attorney, has requested Flynn's files in order to check "for negligence or hiring an incompetent man, or retaining an incompetent man."
Counters Marc Reynolds, Flynn's lawyer and friend: "He was just doing his job. He felt terrible about it. He's a nice guy. A really nice guy."
Reynolds says the case is clear-cut for his client. According to Florida law, a dog owner must post a "bad dog" sign in a prominent place. Lyons-Stanley has a sign posted on the six-foot-high wooden fence leading to her back yard, five feet from the side door where Flynn says he knocked.
Flynn claims he didn't see that sign. Besides, he adds, a sign should have been posted on the front gate. "I always look for dogs and dog signs. I mean, I look for dogs. I work the streets. I've been chased and barked at and snarled at. We're very cognizant of dogs and yards. It's not like we just walk into people's yards, trust me."
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He has filed a claim against Allstate, Lyons-Stanley's insurer, for hospital costs, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. "I just want to be made whole, you know. I just want to be the way I was before I shot the dog," says the 35-year-old officer, who says the bite didn't cause him to miss any active duty. "Other people look at this very lightly, but it's not a funny thing. It wasn't funny to [Lyons-Stanley] and it wasn't funny to me, because I really love dogs."
In fact, he adds, he owned a dog for fifteen years. "I talk to my wife and parents about the shooting a lot. What else could I have done? If she knew she was calling the police and she knew her dogs bite -- I mean, we just don't wait outside. We have to go in and investigate. She should have known we were coming."
Flynn says that when he was instructed to go to Lyons-Stanley's house, he had no idea what he was going to encounter. "All I know was that there was a call about a suspicious person in the neighborhood," he asserts. "When we get dispatched, we never know how long the call was holding." (Dispatchers prioritize the calls they receive and send out officers according to the perceived urgency of the situation.)
Police never did find the suspect on the bike. But Lyons-Stanley says she saw him breaking into a neighbor's apartment a few days later. Watching as he rode off on a black mountain bike, she decided not to report the burglary.