GRAPHIC: Police body-cam video shows moments before officer fatally shoots pit bull

Hawaii County Police are investigating a shooting involving an officer and pit bull.
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 10:30 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 11:44 AM HST

PAHALA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Police body-cam video shows the moments before an officer fatally shot a pit bull at a Pahala home over the weekend.

Hawaii Island police released the video Tuesday night.

A warning to viewers: Portions of the body cam footage may be disturbing to some viewers.

A warning to our viewers, the video may be hard to watch.

According to officials, shortly before 5 p.m., two officers went to a home on the 92-1100 block of Kaumahana St. in Pahala to serve a restraining order on a 52-year-old male.

Police said after officers knocked repeatedly, the owner let the dogs loose.

But 16-year-old Nikki Vander Elst said they just ran out when she cracked the door to see who was outside.

HPD said the dogs charged one of the officers and attacked him simultaneously by jumping on him and clawing his face.

They add that the officer commanded the dogs to get back.

When one of the dogs jumped up, trying to bite the officer’s face, he shot and killed the dog named Kai.

Vander Elst said the incident unfolded quickly.

“I didn’t know there was much I could do because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get there in time because he already had his hand on his gun,” said Vander Elst. “They’re full-size pit bulls, and I think he probably was scared. “I froze ... our dogs have never been aggressive.”

In his first week on the job, Hawaii County’s new police chief Ben Moszkowicz said his department would release the body cam video in a few days.

“It went from zero to 10 in a matter of just a few seconds.,” said Moszkowicz. “So, you know, officers are kind of challenged with making these kind of split-second life or death decisions, unfortunately, on a fairly regular basis.”

“They run, they jump, they lick, and everything,” said Vander-Elst. “They just want loving — they’re the most loving dogs ever.”

“We believe it’s a crime,” said Vander-Elst’s sister, Alohilani Camelo. “They’re labeling him as a vicious dog when he actually wasn’t — [the police officer] pulled a gun on him when he could’ve used anything else to detain him.”

“It’s just not fair.”

Eric Sacks, owner of the Hawaii Dog Training Academy, said officers should be trained to prevent dog attacks using the correct body language. Still, sometimes defense may be the only option.

“If you can, you know, get something in between, get on top of something if you can, you know, hop on top of the rock wall or something where the dogs are not going to be able to get up, that’d be preferable,” said Sacks. “But if it’s a pack of five dogs attacking him, you know, he probably has to defend himself.”

In response to the bodycam footage, Sacks told Hawaii News Now while it’s impossible to understand everything that happened from the bodycam, the dogs did not appear like they were trying to attack the officer.

“If you notice the body language of the dogs, it did not seem aggressive at all,” Sack said. “Tailwagging isn’t 100% accurate but the dogs had what we call a happy wag.”

Sacks added the officer should have remained calm and try to access the nature of the dogs — but it’s easier said than done.

“Perhaps he was, he had a fear of dogs or didn’t have an understanding of dogs,” Sacks said.

The dogs owners say they plan to take legal action.

The officer is still on duty pending internal investigation.