Family protests after Rock Hill officer shoots dog

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJanuary 2, 2014 

Rocky, a 7-year-old pit bull, was euthanized after he was shot and injured by a Rock Hill Police officer Tuesday night.

COURTESY OF THE ROCKHOLT FAMILY

Nicholas Rockholt’s 7-year-old pit bull Rocky had been sluggish, lethargic and depressed the past couple weeks – the result of a bout with heartworms. On New Year’s Eve, he died – the result of gunshot wounds inflicted when authorities say the dog charged at a police officer.

But Rockholt, upset at the officer’s actions, claims his dog had already heeled by the time the officer fired hisgun and only ran at the officer because he was a stranger in the yard who did not identify himself as police. Family and friends say Rocky was stereotyped because of his breed.

Police were sent to a North Jones Avenue home at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, when someone complained about loud noise coming from a house party, according to a Rock Hill Police report. Police had earlier warned the residents about the noise violation.

The officer, Sgt. Donald Cribb, parked his patrol car away from the home and walked toward the back of the house because he thought the music was coming from the backyard.

That’s when two pit bulls charged toward him, the report states. Cribb moved away from the dogs, yelling at them to prevent them from attacking. The first of the two dogs turned around and ran back toward the house. The second dog, however, continued charging at the officer. Believing the dog was about to attack, Cribb drew his gun and fired two shots at the dog. The dog got up and ran back toward the house.

Several people at the party walked outside and began screaming at Cribb, the report states. Backup arrived.

Matthew Lee, who attended the party after getting off work, said he was upset that the dog, Rocky, had been shot and he used profanity when speaking with the officer. Lee told the Herald he feels that Rocky did not have to die.

“I think the officer was afraid that he would get bit,” he said. “He could’ve reacted a whole lot different.”

Lee was arrested, charged with public disorderly conduct, the report states. A second man who police felt wanted to fight the officer disappeared into the crowd before officers could arrest him.

Now, days later, Rocky’s death has left a void in Rockholt’s family.

Rocky had been with the family for seven years. Three of those years were spent under Nicholas Rockholt’s care; Rockholt took in the dog after his brother died.

On New Year’s Eve, Rockholt said family and friends gathered at the North Jones Avenue home to celebrate the holiday with music, drinks and fireworks.

Rockholt’s sister, Katherine Payne, told The Herald that Cribb did not identify himself as people at the party spotted him dressed in black entering the yard. When the 85-pound red-nosed pit bull approached the officer, she told the dog to stop. He did, she said, and heeled, sitting down in front of the officer before three shots were fired.

Police say differently. The dog stopped for a few seconds before he went to charge at the officer again, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger with the Rock Hill Police Department. The officer drew his weapon and fired.

“He feels bad about it,” Bollinger said. “We don’t want to (shoot dogs), but our officers don’t want to get hurt deciding if the dogs will bite or not. We don’t let dogs bite us.”

The people who loved Rocky said he never would have, but he did what dogs are supposed to do – defend their owners and territory.

Payne, who identified herself to police as Rocky’s owner and the host of the party, was charged with violation of the city’s noise ordinance and dogs at large, a citation she disputes because she says Rocky was under her command on her property.

Police would not allow those in attendance to leave the scene for at least 15 minutes, Rockholt said. While they were waiting, Rocky sat in the car, bleeding.

Rockholt drove to a veterinarian’s office in Charlotte, where he was told the dog’s shoulder blade was fractured and his leg would have to be amputated. Rockholt didn’t have the money for the surgery. He paid $100 to have Rocky euthanized.

“I would have taken the bullet for this dog,” said Rockholt, who buried Rocky in his backyard on Wednesday. “My dog did the right thing.

“I would just like see him stop shooting animals,” he said about the officer. “I’m sure he’s saved more lives than he’s taken, but this was a life that did not need to be taken.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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