After local family’s dog shot and killed by police officer, case heads to county prosecutor

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SPRING HILL, Kan. — The deadly shooting of a family’s pet is now in the hands of the county prosecutor. But the pet’s owners say getting justice has been a struggle since the neighbor accused of pulling the trigger is a police officer.

“I heard a bang,” Brittany Knudsen recalled about the day in late March her Great Dane Nala was shot. “Then I heard John yelling so I ran to the front.”

As soon as she reached her front yard, her husband told her to call 911. Three-year-old Nala had a gunshot wound in her side, air was pouring out and she was struggling to breathe.

Across the street from their home were Mark and Jessica Cantrell who had been out for a walk with their own dog.

John Knudsen said Jessica Cantrell told him Nala had attacked them. Neither of the Cantrells returned phone calls or emails from FOX4. 

Jessica Cantrell is an Overland Park animal control officer. Mark Cantrell, an Olathe police officer, told Spring Hill police that he was forced to fire his gun after Nala viciously attacked his dog and then lunged at him.

But that’s not what neighbor Darla Yamada said she saw or heard.

“I didn’t hear any commotion,” Yamada said. “No growling, fighting, anything like that amongst the dogs. I heard nothing but the gun shot.”

Within minutes of the incident, John Knudsen rushed Nala to a vet hospital. She died an hour later.

“Seeing your best friend pass on you, that’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said.

Particularly, he said, when her death seemed senseless. Mark Cantrell later told police that neither he nor his dog were injured by Nala, according to police body cam video that Spring Hill police allowed Knudsen to view.

The Knudsens said Nala was a gentle giant devoted to their children and often a goofball with other dogs.

“To have her taken from us so horribly it still makes me sick to my stomach now,” Brittany said.

She’s also upset that anyone would fire a gun in a neighborhood filled with children.

“It is concerning that, as a police officer, that would be his first thought, his first action. Rather than to de-escalate the situation and shoo her away or call for help, he decided to pull his gun and shoot her,” she said.

The Knudsens were disappointed with the response by Spring Hill police. The say one officer completely sided with the Cantrells even though their version of events was disputed by two witnesses. The report listed Mark Cantrell as the victim.

Every time the Knudsens pressed for more information from police, they said they were blocked. Even the majority of the police report they were given has been blacked out.

Frustrated, the couple shared their story on Facebook. That attracted the attention of Spring Hill police, but not in the way they hoped.

An officer paid them a visit at their home, asking about the Facebook post regarding Nala’s death and telling them they could be charged with harassing the Cantrells.

That’s when the Knudsen’s attorney Eric Crinnian got involved.

“For an officer to show up at their house, even after a complaint by Officer Cantrell, was a little bit surprising and a little bit concerning,” Crinnian said. “I don’t think people understand why victims in these cases resort to social media. If it weren’t for social media, they never would have met me and they never would have gotten the media involved.”

All of which appeared to prompt Spring Hill police to do a little more investigating. Police have now referred the case to the Miami County attorney for possible criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the Knudsens are trying to keep Nala’s memory alive by planting a tree in her honor at their home, while they fight for justice for her death.

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