When Martha Knight saw a sheriff’s deputy driving around to her backyard, she immediately thought of her dogs.
“I had a feeling he might do something to one of my dogs,” she said. “I didn’t think he’d shoot at them, I just thought he might Taser them or something.”
What happened next, Knight couldn’t have seen coming, and it left her with one less dog and a host of unanswered questions. Still, the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office stands behind the deputy’s actions, saying the shooting was an act of self-defense.
Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Allen arrived at Knight’s Walterboro residence on March 20 after receiving information that a burglary suspect was hiding out in a truck on her property, according to an incident report.
Knight’s dogs began barking when they saw Allen in the backyard walking toward her parents’ house, and one of them — “Zazzie” — pulled the stake it was tied to out of the ground and began running toward the officer, the report said.
Knight said she ran after the dog, but she wasn’t quick enough. Allen shot and wounded the dog in its side when Zazzie was a foot away from him, according to the report. Zazzie was so seriously injured, it had to be put down.
Ted Stanfield, chief deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, said Allen performed the way he was trained to.
“In this situation, I think he made the right choice,” Stanfield said.
He said Allen used a gun because the dog got too close too fast, which meant a stun gun wouldn’t have been effective.
“It’s only a one-shot deal, and if the subject is too close, the (electric prongs) won’t get the spread they need to be effective. And if he missed, he would’ve risked being bit,” Stanfield said.
Stanfield said that he was speaking on behalf of Allen.
Zazzie, a mixed Labrador retriever, weighed about 45 to 50 pounds, according to Dr. Lori Campbell, the veterinarian who euthanized the dog. Knight said Zazzie had no history of aggression toward strangers.
“She may have barked, but she would not have bit him,” Knight said. “He said he didn’t want to take the chance of getting mauled by a dog. I said, ‘She isn’t even 40 pounds, were you that scared of a bite on the ankle?’ ”
Campbell said it’s hard for anybody who wasn’t there to judge the situation.
“Even a dog that’s generally not aggressive may get scared and bite,” she said. “Whenever this happens, whether justified or not, I think it’s time for us to step back and ask, ‘Could this have been avoided?’ ”
Stanfield doesn’t think so.
“We can try to use magic and all that, sure, but it doesn’t work,” he said. “We’re sorry we had to do something like this. But did they expect the officer to just stand there and get bit?”
The suspect Allen was searching for is Michael Chaplin, who is Knight’s ex-husband’s nephew. Knight said she hasn’t seen him in months, and that the incident last week was the Sheriff’s Office’s third attempt to get information from the Knight family about Chaplin’s whereabouts.
Stanfield said the Sheriff’s Office has been receiving tips from Charleston police that Chaplin is hiding out in Walterboro.