The Oakland Police Department Tuesday expressed concern over an incident this weekend in which its officers fatally shot a deer, leaving some city residents fuming over what they say was the unnecessary death of a harmless animal.
Norse McLemore was awoken Saturday morning by his young children, ages 9 and 11, who pleaded with him to get out of bed because there was a deer outside their house in a decidedly un-bucolic part of East Oakland on 90th Avenue near Cherry Street.
He rolled over and held onto sleep, but his children persisted.
"I didn't believe them at first," McLemore said.
A group of his neighbors were already congregated in front of his house, along with a pair of Oakland police patrol cars.
When he stepped out in his backyard around 11 a.m., in the far corner he spotted a small deer, which he estimated weighed between 150 to 170 pounds.
"This wasn't as small as Bambi, but it wasn't a big as a buck either," he said.
At that point, McLemore didn't know that he would be cleaning deer remains off his property a short while later.
Although animal control was contacted to respond to the situation, Oakland police announced today that it is investigating why the deer was shot, spokeswoman Holly Joshi said.
"The shooting of the deer by police officers is an unfortunate event and we are disturbed by the situation," police said in a statement.
"I understand the importance of life and I'm working towards implementing strategies that will result in humane outcomes in our future contacts with wildlife," Police Chief Anthony Batts said in the prepared statement.
Oakland Housing Authority officers first spotted the wayward deer prancing down the 8700 block of Birch Street, which is four blocks from McLemore's home, a representative with the authority said.
To monitor the deer's course, the officers turned their vehicle around and began pursuing the deer from a safe distance, authority communications director Marcus Walton said.
But then the deer leapt over a fence and into McLemore's backyard.
Walton said officers first called animal control, which couldn't respond immediately, and then the state Department of Fish and Game before requesting the assistance of Oakland city police.
The Department of Fish and Game told the authority it was going to dispatch an officer with a tranquilizer gun "to sedate the deer and remove it from the back yard," Walton said.
But because the deer was in Oakland city police's jurisdiction, once those officers responded, the situation was in their hands.
After leaping over McLemore's 4-foot high front fence, "the deer was basically caged," McLemore said, because of a 6-foot high fence lining the rear of his property.
The deer didn't appear to pose a significant threat or a public safety hazard, but was scared and disoriented by the unfamiliar surroundings and gathering crowd, McLemore said.
"They could have left (the deer) in the backyard all day, called a park ranger, they could have done something differently," he said, referring to what happened next, when officers fired at least six shots at the wild animal.
McLemore said he heard five shots go off when he was inside his home with his two children and wife. He said officers first shot the deer in the body, which left two projectiles lodged in his fence after they "either went through the deer or ricocheted."
That's when the deer got right back up.
"And that's when they shot the deer in the head," he said. "The deer wasn't showing any aggression."
Earlier, McLemore said he was told that the Oakland officers couldn't locate a tranquilizer. He said he later found out that, had they had a tranquilizer, there were no officers who knew what dosage would be needed to sedate the deer.
"I can understand that they don't know what to do, but in the same breath I'd say they had ample enough time to handle the situation," McLemore said.
"They made a brash decision," he alleged.
In nearby Berkeley, where deer are a common sight in the hillside residential neighborhoods, police spokeswoman Officer Jamie Perkins said that responding officers there would likely enlist the aid of the city's animal control unit when responding to an errant wild animal.
Although Perkins said a deer left to roam can often find its way back to safety, use of lethal force to bring the situation under control is not out of the question, either, "especially if it were creating a hazard."
But McLemore said he and other neighbors did not perceive the deer as a threat.
"I just really thought that was a cruel thing, especially for a baby deer," he said.
He said that many in the neighborhood were upset by what they say was animal cruelty not just because of the killing, but also because of the manner in which the body was handled and the presence of children.
He said once officers laid waste to the deer, they didn't cover up the carcass as they hauled it over to a truck, and instead grabbed it by the legs, dragged it, and tossed it in the truck.
"Some people may not be able to handle that," McLemore said.