A Cleveland man thought he was being a Good Samaritan when he smashed a car window over the weekend to rescue two dogs in a hot car. Instead, he was slapped with a citation, charging him with criminal damaging.
The incident occurred around 4 p.m. on Saturday in the parking lot of Walmart on Ridgewood Drive in Parma.
Richard Hill said he and several other bystanders noticed two dogs locked inside a car with its alarm sounding. They thought one of the dogs appeared to be distressed. He said it did not respond when they tapped on the windows.
One bystander went inside to page the car’s owner while another dialed 911, Hill said. The 911 call was made at 4:08 p.m., and according to Parma Police, an officer arrived on scene at 4:12 p.m.
In those four minutes, Hill had taken a hammer from his work truck and broken the car’s window to remove the dogs — what he believed to be the right thing to do and protected under an Ohio state law passed in 2016.
So Hill said he was shocked when he received a citation for criminal damaging.
“I told [the officer] that I really felt that this dog needed to be out, right then and there. I had no idea how long it was going to take you guys to get here,” Hill said. “You’re making me look like I’ve done 100 percent wrong when all I was doing was looking out for the animals.”
Citation in hand Monday afternoon, Hill said if he had to do it over again, he would do the same thing.
“This is why nobody will do anything, they’re too worried, too afraid they’re going to get in trouble. So that’s why people keep on walking,” Hill said. “And yeah, I could’ve walked on by, but then the very next day, I could’ve seen on the news that those dogs died.”
Parma Police, however, said they believe the citation is justified and that the circumstances did not warrant breaking the window. Police said according to their investigation, the vehicle’s panoramic sunroof was open, the back windows were cracked and the dogs did not appear to be in danger.
Surveillance video obtained by News 5 shows that the dogs were in the car for less than ten minutes. According to the video, only eight minutes elapsed between the time the dog owner pulled into the parking lot and when police cited Hill. The events played out as follows:
- 4:04 p.m. dog owner pulls into parking lot
- 4:06 p.m. dog owner and friend walk into Walmart
- 4:08 p.m. bystanders call 911 about dogs in hot car, told officers en route
- 4:10 p.m. car window smashed
- 4:12 p.m. Parma police arrive, cite Hill for breaking window
The dog's owner returned after about 14 minutes, police said.
Hill said he plans to contest the citation in court.
It was 78 degrees at the time this all happened, but temperatures inside the vehicle could have reached up to 100 degrees.
The Ohio law that went into effect in 2016 states that a person can be immune from liability if they forcibly enter a motor vehicle if the child or animal inside is in imminent danger, if they have called 911 and if all of the doors are locked. There is no specific timeline mentioned.
There is no clear collection of data that indicates if anyone in the state has broken a window to rescue an animal or child since the law passed.