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August 23rd, 2008
Letter to the Editor: More to the story than "It's just a dog"

The recent news media blitz on the San Marcos Police Department following an interstate police pursuit and subsequent traffic stop brings to light the public’s ignorance to the perils of law enforcement combined with irresponsible news media reporting.  The media was quick to jump on a single quote by Officer Stephen’s, out of context to the full situation, to stir raw emotions without reporting the full story of events which took place.  The public was quick to play monday morning easy chair cop quarterback and condemn the officers, ignorant to the survival mindset of today’s well trained law enforcement, and the multiple threatening possibilities presented.

A vehicle traveling at 100+ mph down an interstate highway shortly after midnight is going to bring attention to itself no matter what city they are recklessly driving through.  Phone calls were made to the 911 emergency operations center about the reckless vehicle, possible DWI suspect, with many unknowns involved.    Officer Paul Stephens, along with other responsible San Marcos police officers, intercepted the erratic vehicle and began a 5 mile pursuit before the vehicle finally stopped near Centerpoint road.  The vehicle crossed all three lanes of traffic multiple times, around 18 wheelers, drove on the shoulder of the road, and around construction signs before finally pulling over a second time.  The end of the pursuit eliminated further danger the reckless driver was causing the citizens of San Marcos and those motorist passing through.

Officer Stephens is a combat veteran having served in Iraq and is well trained with the police department.  He knows that the percentage of officers killed or injured greatly increases in the hours of darkness on the night shift (1), where most new officers start out.   He also knows that vehicles, traffic stops, and pursuits contribute to a high number of line of duty assaults and deaths for officers.  In the back of his mind he also knows that 140 peace officers were killed in the line of duty in 2007, and with over half of those that were killed feloniously, their deaths occurred in the southern states.(2)

Stephen’s approached the vehicle with the mindset of officer survival, with his hand on this gun ready for the many dangerous threats and possibilities.  Is the driver armed?  Is the driver fleeing a crime?  Am I going to be shot?  Why is the driver flailing his arms at me?  What other threat am I missing?  The driver’s first words spoken may not be completely audible in the digital video recording, but they are “SHE’S DEAD!!  SHE’S DEAD!!”.

Now I ask you to put yourself in officer Stephen’s now perspiration soaked body armor.  You have just been in a chase with an unknown suspect at 12:30AM at speeds up to 100 mph.  You have seen combat in Iraq and know what the words “Dead” indicate.  You don’t know if the suspect is armed or why they are fleeing the police, and you are trained to think and survive the worse case scenarios.  What would “She’s DEAD!” mean to you?  It means there is a dead body in the car.

Imagine the RELIEF Stephen’s felt when he realized he was not dealing with a dead human body, not a dead baby girl, but a dead dog.  His comment of “It’s just a dog” may seem insensitive, and those words were better thought than spoken, but it was a comment of relief that all those other more dangerous and horrible possibilities were no longer relevant.  As a combat and police veteran myself, the shouts of “She’s Dead!” have a very literal human meaning and bring back some memories I would rather forget.

The media captivated and capitalized on those 4 words spoken by Stephen’s, took them out of context, and initially disregarded the second in car camera provided by Officer Joyce Bender of the passenger side of the stopped vehicle.  Officer Bender immediately cradled the dog, attempted to clear the airway, and made the accurate determination the dog was in fact deceased.  This action was taken within minutes of the second and final vehicle stop.  The news media would have you believe that the pursuit and subsequent stop CAUSED the death of the animal.  Fox news reported the death was “subsequent” to the police stop.  This is simply not true.

As an animal lover myself with horses, dogs, goats, and some occasional barn cats, I sympathize with the Gonzalez family in the loss of their pet.   My family also suffered the recent sudden loss of a pet.  The clinic the Gonzalez’s were traveling to in New Braunfels was 15 miles away from where they finally pulled over.  It would have been nothing short of miraculous for them to continue on with triple digit speeds and arrive safely at the clinic, especially with the emotional state of the driver, which Officer Stephen’s points out.  It also would have been in vain.

It was responsible for the police department to pursue and stop the reckless driver.  It was responsible for the police to investigate the circumstances surrounding the high speed pursuit.  Back up officers acted responsibly in assessing the condition of the dog and did in fact determine the dog was already dead.  With nothing more that could be done for the dog, it was responsible to issue a traffic citation although with the current media frenzy, I doubt any fines will be assessed.  Officer’s Stephen’s remarks were better thought than said but brought to light his relief that the situation was not more serious.

In the end the news media got their headlines, the Gonzales family is getting their attention, and the police are again unjustly portrayed as the bad guys.  Oprah will play on the emotions of animal lovers, broadcast the officer’s comments out of context, and portray the police as the villains.  Imagine what would have happened if the Gonzales family was allowed to continue at speed, with or without escort, and had caused another tragedy possibly involving you or someone in your family.

Most progressive police departments such as the San Marcos police department have a “Citizen’s police academy” which I strongly recommend all San Marcos citizens attend.  Before you jump to conclusions based on irresponsible, emotional, out of context reporting, attend the citizen’s police academy and learn the full pot-pourri of multitasking challenges and dangers modern day law enforcement officers face every day.

Dan Misiaszek

Dan Misiaszek is a retired San Marcos police sergeant currently serving his third year in Iraq providing security for US Diplomats

(1) – Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) FBI annual publication
(2) – 2007 Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s annual report FBI UCR

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0 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: More to the story than "It's just a dog"

  1. Good job explaining the real inside story. I hope everyone eventually understands what you have just said.

  2. You need to get your facts in order before writing this article. Everyone seems to know exactly what happened,the truth of the matter is you weren’t there. Take time to see the video!!!!!!!!!

  3. What would have been better was to show the entire vidoe form beginng to end. Why would the officer yell at the guy “What are you on?”? What the hell is the person supposed to say? Well except for “WHAT?” or “Nothing”. Once the officer realized that to them it was an emergency then he shouldn’t have continued to yell like a drill sargeant. Also where is the quote where Krystal is sayig “No she is biting my fingers”? Again the whole tape……….

  4. There are two videos on this…….. one from Stephens dash cam and one from Bender’s dash cam. They cut off audio for a while then resumed……… stupid people just move their mouth without fully checking the story

  5. The major problem with San Marcos is that insignficant events like this are even of concern. Get a life.

  6. I am a Dog lover, but if anyone in my family was crying out erratically, “she’s dead, she’s dead, and I not knowing who they were talking about, I would be relieved to know it wasn’t a human. I can certainly understand Officer Stephens’s relief that it wasn’t a person.

  7. This is more than a “rookie mistake” or “insensitivity”. This is an egregious, punitive abuse of power and direct psychological abuse by Paul Stephens of San Marcos PD.

    If he is displaying this behavior as a rookie and is allowed to go about his duties with a mere verbal counseling, what will he continue to do as a seasoned officer?

    It is his job to be an objective observer rather than place his subjective judgements on what needs to be done.

    Fact: driver was speeding, therefore objective action is to initiate traffic stop.

    Fact: a living being was dying, therefore objective action is a priority assist in getting emergency medical care for that living being (regardless of Paul’s subjective view on animals).

    He should have immediately escorted them at a safe speed to the emergency vet. As far as other officers on scene determining that the dog is dead…since when are police offiers schooled veterinarians?

    After the dog received medical care, Paul could have then issued the citation to the driver.

    The volume level of Paul Stephens during the stop is not even of concern to me as it understandable when dealing with a potentially dangerous traffic stop BUT he should have had the wherewith all to determine that the driver was not combative with him just upset that his dog was dying! At no time did the driver make any aggressive action towards the officer and the driver was compliant with all of his directions.

    It is the content of Paul Stephens’ dialogue and actions that is the focus here. It does not take 20 minutes to issue a citation. Using Paul Stephen’s subjective reasoning style, issuing a citation is not an emergency and does not justify Paul placing further risk to the dog’s life!

    Paul Stephens took his time in issuing that citation as a punitive move to teach the driver a “lesson”. Chilling.

    Prior to initiating any traffic stop, the officers call in the plate number to Dispatch and they have all the information they need from LEDS/NCIC. If the driver of the vehicle turned out to not be the owner of the car listed on the registration, a little detective work later would have sufficed. It is not rocket science here.

    While guilty,the fact that the driver was speeding is neither here nor there. It does not excuse nor negate Paul Stephens’ sociopathic behavior. Whether or not the dog would have died at the veterinarian’s office does not matter either.

    The driver should be held accountable for speeding but that is separate from the issue of Paul Stephens’ inappropriate behavior. This is not an abuse of power in regards to initiating the traffic stop. It is an abuse of power by Paul Stephens in his action and words to the driver during the stop.

    It goes beyond unprofessionalism and is an indication of his true psychological make-up. This is not someone that we want in a position of power. Ever. This type of person cannot be educated, rehabilitated or counseled into proper action and thought.

    How dare he accuse the driver of being on something because he was distraught over his dog dying! Then when the driver says he is on medication for Bi-Polar, Paul says “I can tell” in a completely horrific tone!

    How dare he tell the driver that if he is going that fast there had better be a child in that car! That dog was their child, Paul Stephens.

    I am not calling him officer on purpose as he does not deserve to be addressed as such, that title is reserved for professionals.

    Sensitivity training, verbal counseling, etc. will do nothing to correct this. Paul Stephens needs to have his pay docked, be suspended and/or be fired. If he is merely verbally counseled, the only thing that will change will be that he will become more subversive and under-handed in his abuse to avoid complaints and detection.

    As for the other cop on the scene that spoke with the female owner holding the dog on the passenger side…how dare the cop tell the owner that Missy was already dead (as if that was an excuse for detaining them or talking to them in that manner).

    If that were a child, would you not rush to the ER room even if it was dead upon arrival?

    If the Mayor is siding with Paul Stephens, the other cop and San Marcos PD, that indicates her psycological make up too. Even if they want to white wash it as “insensitivity” to animals and their owners, then be aware that “insensitivity” to animals is a precursor to “insensitivity” to humans! If Paul Stephens is being bold on tape imagine what he is doing off tape?

    The fact that they dismissed the ticket shows they know this is more than just insensitivity.

    It even more heartbreaking to hear after all that they were subjected to Missy suffered for 20 minutes for nothing. Suffered while she was scared, while her owners were distraught, hearing yelling from strangers at her parents, etc.

    Amazing that they did not fire that rookie. What is the matter? Afraid he will get upset or suffer? He will get over it, it is “just a job” and he “can get another one”.

  8. P.S. Quit mentioning that Paul Stephens is a veteran of the Iraq war. It is just a ploy to gain sympathy and kneed jerk reaction of support from those that support the war.

  9. I am really amazed at the different responses from this incident and the death of a dog. I know that if i was on the highway and someone went flying by me at 100 miles per hour I think I would pull over and hit the number on my cell phone for the police non-emergency number and report it. That was an accident waiting to happen. Those people that value the live of a dog over the possible death of a family need to have their priorities checked. I have pets, have all my life, but never to the point that my love for them is greater than that for my wife or sons. That one response of “If I have an emergency I will know now to never stop and keep going” or something like that. Have they ever thought of the consequences of that. Not stopping for a patrol officer at a high rate of speed can really add up to some serious citations – and by more than one officer. Personally I am glad Officer Stephens stopped the car before it could have possibly injured or killed someone – at that speed there is not much hope for coming out of that uninjured. His remarks appear to be insensitive but imagine the change of attitude from a “She’s dying” and the image of a person to that of a dog – tough change of pace. Has anyone ever considered the fact that farther down the road a Texas Highway Patrol officer would have stopped them. What would the reaction be from them?? How about the Comal County Sheriff’s office? And can you visualize the New Braunfels police watching a car come speeding into their community and what their reaction might be. It just so happens Officer Stephens was the one on the job and doing his duty as he was trained to do. This has been blown so out of proportion it is beyond imagination. The media has very selectively shown this incident and unfortunately it made the national news wire. People need to get the full story with regard to the situation and the possible consequences – (Stephens was in Iraq and handled more stressful situations than this in regard to being a “ploy:) – and take off the blinders to see beyond a misrepresented and out of context statement of “It’s just a dog”.

  10. I think Gonzales should apologize to everyone involved
    for his lack of judgement and emotional stupidity.

  11. I think that this situation has been blown way out of proportion by the national media. I can’t imagine if a family on a road trip had died instead of a dog. The national media would have had it’s day with that as well. Ultimately, a dogs life is very important (I have 4 rescue dogs and love them dearly) but it is not more important than my husbands or future childrens lives. I feel that the officer who stopped them was acting on instinct, not knowing what the situation is. There are far too many stories of officers being killed or seriously harmed in the line of duty because they didn’t take every appropriate precaution. Officer Stevens did make an insensitive remark, but I disagree with April 100% in the remark that says Officer Stevens can’t learn from this and change. BELIEVE me, he is learning his lesson. There is no reason to punish his family for a stupid mistake in wording by him being fired.

  12. To Dan Misiaszek – did you actually listen and really LOOK at that video? To April Michael – very good points all the way around.

  13. Actually I dont think Stephens has learned anything. Last night he was again acting inappropriate by flirting with all the girls outside the nephews bar, instead of patrolling or ensuring safety on the roads. I know for a fact, I saw it, he was flirting with girls outside of nephews. Interestingly enough, there were a few outside the bar (perhaps in their drunken stooper) yelling “dog murderer!” Stephens was unaffected and kept flirting, and hugging the drunken girls.

  14. Officer Stephens was certainly justified in stopping the vehicle. And your points about Officer Stephens mindset are well taken. However, once he determined that he was not in danger, why didn’t he or one of the other officers present escort Mr. Gonzales to the clinic, or if they deemed that to be too dangerous, then why didn’t Officer Stephens or one of the other officers present drive Mr. Gonzales, Ms. Hernandez, and Missy to the clinic themselves. I certainly agree that Mr. Gonzales should have been lectured about his dangerous driving…. but why couldn’t that be done at the clinic. If anyone there thought the dog might be alive, or revived, wouldn’t that have been justified?

  15. I can’t imagine the ball falls squarely in either court. I drove my ailing 15 year old Golden Retriever to the vet when she was convulsing with what would end up as the last movements she ever make again. I was struck dumb with the need to save her. I wasn’t rationalizig her age, prior condition, or any such thing. Simply, how could I possibly help her. That’s a hard place to be. I didn’t take off at 100mph though. I recall thinking that the last thing I wanted to do was get in an accident or draw attention that would prevent me from getting her to the vet. She made it there, still alive, just in time for them to put her to sleep. Years later now, I know there wouldn’t have been any sense to getting her to the vet faster. her life was over and I was wrecked with sadness. I just thank god that’s the only wreck that happened.

  16. I feel really bad for the couple who lost their dog. If it was my dog I would not have pulled over until I arrived at the vet, no matter what the consequences.

    The officer was insensitive and disrespectful. However, watching the video and seeing the man’s behavior, he is lucky he was not subdued or worse. If this had happened in Houston or Dallas and not a college city, that would have been the case.

  17. cm1277 you are a fool. I hope this situation never happens to you when innocent drivers are on the road. What are you 19 yrs old. Mom and dad are like a million miles away. Oh.. would hate for them to have to pay your bail or worse identify your body. Grow up learn from this and if this ever happens to you know that here in San Marcos there is not a 24 hr vet. So move away where one is located or don’t own a pet.

  18. I think it is for people like you who will not pull over that the officer should have been a little ticked off at first. We have enough people who openly violate the law and put people at risk. Common sense would clearly say that putting a human life in danger for an animal regardless of how attached you have become to it is not a good idea. I understand that people get emotionally involved with animals but that doesn’t make it right to break the law.

    Sometimes common sense isn’t so common.

  19. cm1277, you would have made it less than a mile into New Braunfels city limits. Either the New Braunfels PD or the Comal County SO would have shot at your vehicle. I have seen it before, with M-16’s shooting at vehicles that failed to stop. Is your life worth more than the dogs?

  20. Andy Warhol said it best..15 minutes of fame. If we all stop blogging about this it should just go away….time heals all wounds. Don’t respond to either blogs about this fiasco. This is the last time for me bigger issues face our city than this ‘has been’.

  21. This is definitely played out, so let’s turn to something that does need discussion.

    SMPD needs a serious makeover. I am originally from Houston, and have never encountered such disrespectful officers as a few of the ones on the San Marcos police force. After some kids stole money from me at the river, an officer told me that unless I was going to press charges, it didn’t matter because “murders happen here.” When I called SMPD for assistance because someone in a car was chasing me on my bike late at night, not one but TWO cop cars came to me and then questioned me as to where I was coming from and where I was going, as if I had broken some law. Less problematic but proof of a larger symptom, just the other day an officer told me that the law required me to have a blinking red or amber light on the back of my bike at night. While this is a good idea, and usually I have one, it is Texas law that bikes have only a red reflector on the rear of the bike.

    So we have here: cops who don’t know how to talk to people, cops who don’t know who the criminals are, and cops who don’t know the laws they are supposed to uphold. I don’t claim to know everything, but I know that these are minor problems that add up to a larger issue. The situation with Officer Stephens is just another nail in the coffin. And there are plenty other instances I have not mentioned, that others in the city know more about.

    I would love to take the citizens police training course mentioned above. I would also love it if our police took a training course… ever heard of Community Oriented Policing (COP)? It’s about time our police force starts acting like they care about this community. I have met nicer cops in much worse towns. There is no reason we cannot all work together to have a better community where police and citizens can actually work together to solve problems, rather than seperately creating problems.

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