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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Homeless Man's Service Dog, Shot Dead By CHP, Said to Have Been Charging Supervisor's Aide

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge "I was convinced I was going to die," says city worker
  • "I was convinced I was going to die," says city worker

Megan Hamilton, a legislative aide for Supervisor Malia Cohen, joined a gaggle of public employees for a tour of urban blight in the city's southeast. Instead, she says she was charged by three "aggressive" dogs and watched in horror as a California Highway Patrolman shot one dead in front of her.

SF Weekly wrote earlier this week about that dog, "Knucklehead," a 2-year-old boxer mix owned by Steven Coffman, a homeless man who lives beneath an offramp at Evans and Selby. Coffman says he has a doctor's prescription affirming Knucklehead helped him cope with depression and anxiety. Her traumatic death has left him in a bad place. "Even though my life was in the shitter, I still had her," he told SF Weekly. "She was my reason, man."

It turned out to be a terrible week for Hamilton as well. Along with representatives of the Department of Public Works, Caltrans, the Police Department, and a CHP officer, she wandered beneath the tracks near Islais Creek to view copper thieves' damage to public property on Dec. 7. When she looked up, she saw a trio of dogs -- Knucklehead, Sugar, and Charlie, according to nearby homeless residents -- bearing down on her. "They were growling and barking," she says. "I was terrified."

In a flash, she says the CHP officer stepped between her and the dogs and fired three shots. She cannot recall if he first yelled at the dogs, as he indicated to Animal Control officers. All three dogs ran off following the shots, but Knucklehead keeled over and died.

Hamilton estimates she was 20 feet from the dogs when the officer opened fire; he was about 5 feet in front of her. "Easily I feel [the dogs] would have killed me," she says. "It was a defensive fire."

After Knucklehead collapsed and died, Hamilton recalls a homeless man and woman running onto the scene. She describes their demeanor as "freaked out." This was likely Mark Devlin -- who spoke to SF Weekly -- and his friend Bonnie. Coffman had been unable to talk his way onto public transit with Knucklehead that morning, and left her in the care of others at the homeless encampment. Devlin described Knucklehead in starkly different terms than Hamilton. "She was happy, no threat to anyone or anything. Anybody will tell you this was not the dog that deserved this."

After the shooting, a number of law enforcement officials arrived on the scene and Hamilton's tour of the area was cut short. She retreated back to her office following an experience she describes as "traumatic."

"I was convinced I was going to die," she says.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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