'No trespassing' sign may not stop officers from entering yard

By Richard Piatt, Deseret News

Published: Wed, July 23, 2014, 3:30 p.m. MDT

 Chuck Roberts, of West Valley City, created a special \

Chuck Roberts, of West Valley City, created a special "no trespassing" sign. It lets law enforcement know a dog is on the premises and the owner does not consent to search. A University of Utah law professor says those signs won't mean a thing in exigent circumstances.

(Alan Neves, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — The fatal shooting of a dog in a backyard last month prompted a Salt Lake County man to create and sell “no trespassing” signs, but legal experts say those signs may not stop officers from entering someone’s yard.

West Valley resident Chuck Roberts said he realizes his sign addresses a current hot-button issue in Salt Lake City — the death of Geist, a 110-pound, 2-year-old Weimaraner shot by a police officer June 18.

He also said it shows how strongly people feel about their pets, property rights and the safety of the state's police officers.

Roberts, who is in the sign-making business, created the small sign to hang near the entrance of private property. The sign reads: "No trespassing. Dog on premises. Notice to law enforcement: Resident does not consent to searches. In case of emergency, please recruit assistance from local animal control personnel.” Then it has a place for the resident to list their phone number.

"I figured if I could make a sign that I could hang up in my yard, then the dog would be safe, the law enforcement officer would be safe, and my Fourth Amendment rights would be intact," Roberts said.

But University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell said police officers are trained on such issues and already know they can't go onto private property without a good reason.

"Law enforcement officers generally know they cannot go into someone's fenced yard," Cassell said. "It's only in very, very rare circumstances — in an emergency or exigent circumstance — that requires immediate action."

On June 18, police were looking for a missing 3-year-old in the area of 2500 South and 1500 East. An officer entered Sean Kendall's backyard and was confronted by Geist. Kendall was not home at the time. Geist was shot and killed.

It fits the criteria for what legal scholars call "an exigent circumstance" — imminent danger or threat that would override property rights.

In that type of situation, a sign won't mean a thing, Cassell said.

"A sign isn't relevant in exigent circumstances," he said. "In the case of a missing child, police may be limited to go on private property. And of course, whether this was one of those limited circumstances is a matter that's under investigation."

In the meantime, the demand for Roberts' signs keeps growing. He's selling the signs for $6.99. Due to an overwhelming demand, current processing time is five to 10 business days, according to his website, protectmypooch.com.

"With all the emotions involved, I figured there was a common-sense solution to it all," Roberts said. "This is my idea, and I've gotten pretty good response from it."

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: rpiatt@deseretnews.com

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1. Craig Clark
Boulder, CO,
July 23, 2014

A property owner can legally keep me from trespassing on his property. But a police officer with a search warrant or on what the courts call 'probable cause' is a whole other ball game. But I'm OK with the guy making a few bucks off of the sale of his signs.

2. Palintram
Holladay, UT,
July 23, 2014

No surprise here. When a child is missing and a cop needs to go on your property, he or she will do so. Your dog is not a child, no matter if you disagree.

3. Prodicus
Provo, UT,
July 23, 2014

There was no exigent situation. There was no probable cause.

This man lived a fair distance away from the child's home; it's not as though he was a next door neighbor. There was zero reason to believe the child might have entered his closed gates and closed the gates behind itself.

The child had never left the home. The dog was shot roughly half an hour after the child was found.

There are 800,000 missing child cases reported in this nation every year. Figure urban density into that and it's likely that most people live with a mile of a reported missing child case each year. Just because some child is missing somewhere does not mean all Americans everywhere forfeit all their rights of property and privacy. Nor does it authorize the indiscriminate and mindless use of deadly force.

4. kkstout
July 23, 2014

The law may trump the sign, but hopefully the sign will remind the officers that our pets are important to us. Perhaps the sign will work as a yield signal to pause before shooting an animal.

5. The Real Maverick
Orem, UT,
July 23, 2014

The radical right teaches us that everything within their property is untouchable to anyone all the time. That property is more important than human lives. Just look at how the right treats our soldiers and Walmart employees! This is a false and corrupt teaching. If a baby goes missing and a cop has a suspicion that the baby may be within your property then by golly he should be able to. Human lives are more important than property.

I support our law enforcement. While that let's death was unfortunate, the rescued baby was far more important. No matter what radicals try to preach.