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Off-duty Olathe police officer involved in shooting of Spring Hill family's dog

Posted at 8:05 PM, Apr 22, 2020

SPRING HILL, Kan. — A Spring Hill family is searching for answers after an off-duty Olathe police officer was involved in the shooting of their dog, who later had to be euthanized.

Brittany and John Knudsen describe Nala, their 3-year-old Great Dane, as a "gentle giant" who loved other dogs and people, especially their three children.

"She would just have her nose on the back of their jackets just following them around," Brittany Knudsen said. "She was just sweet and gentle, and those were definitely her kids. It has been really tough not having her here."

Nala has been gone since March 29. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the couple was working in their backyard, when Nala jumped up on the deck, wanting to go inside. They didn't realize the door to the garage had been left open, so Nala was able to get out.

"I think she just wanted to come out, go potty and come back in, but then she saw some dogs and people and wanted to play," Brittany said.

There was a couple across the street walking their two dogs, which were described as medium or large mixed-breed animals.

From her back deck, neighbor Darla Yamada witnessed part of what happened next.

"I saw Nala running across. Of course, she's a big dog, and her leaps are very large," Yamada said, "and then the next thing I know, there was no barking, no growling, no commotion, nothing. Then I heard the gunshot."

At the sound of the shot, John Knudsen ran to the front of the house.

"Nala was jogging across the street just as happy as can be," he said. "She didn't even realize that she had been shot yet."

Once the Great Dane reached him, John could see she had a chest wound from the bullet. He also saw the couple, later identified as Mark and Jessica Cantrell, and their two dogs.

"The woman had explained or shouted that your dog was attacking us, but the time frame doesn't really add up," John said, "and the speed of everything is really strange."

He carried Nala to his truck and rushed to the vet, while Brittany called 911 and told the couple to stay until police arrived.

"I was telling them don't leave, what are you doing, because I saw him walking away," Brittany said. "I said, 'I'm on the phone with the cops, you can't leave. You need to stay here.'"

Spring Hill police arrived and took witness statements. Later, Yamada saw Mark and Jessica Cantrell and their dogs heading home – with no apparent injuries.

"They were walking down the street just as I had seen them when they were going [the other] direction earlier," she said.

A second neighbor said the Cantrells' dogs had no visible injuries and were able to walk away from the scene.

Meanwhile, at the vet's office, John Knudsen learned Nala's injuries were too severe. She had to be euthanized.

"Nothing will bring her back, and that's a very tough pill to swallow right now," he said.

No charges filed

A tougher pill to swallow was what Spring Hill police later told the family about the couple's actions.

"They were able to discharge a firearm within city limits because we were in violation of the leash law, and they were fearing for their safety," John Knudsen said.

The 41 Action News Investigators tried to get the full police report, but the department would only provide the first couple of pages, which only list the names of involved parties.

Mark Cantrell is listed as a victim. According to the report, he is employed as an Olathe police officer.

The Olathe Police Department said it is aware of the incident, which "was a traumatic event for everyone involved."

The department initiated an internal investigation after the shooting.

His wife, Jessica Cantrell, is an Overland Park animal control officer. 41 Action News previously interviewed her in 2018 for a separate story.

The 41 Action News Investigators began reaching out to the couple on Monday. After attempts to call and text the couple went unanswered, the investigators knocked on their door. Again, no one answered.

The Spring Hill Police Department declined to release details of the incident, stating that it's "still under investigation." A spokesman confirmed no charges have been filed.

"It just scared me to death that someone is out walking their dogs and carrying a gun," Yamada said. "My first thought is there's children in this neighborhood. There's people outside. If he had missed her, it could have hit someone else."

Aside from many questions, the Knudsens have been left with a hole in their hearts.

"Even just looking out into the backyard when my kids are playing, I expect to see her out there following them around, and she's not there anymore," Brittany said through tears.

A petition called "Justice for Nala" has more than 17,000 signatures. It calls for Cantrell to "be held responsible for shooting and killing a dog," while also asking that Olathe police be fully trained on how to handle animals they encounter.

The Knudsens are working with an attorney to explore their legal options.

Anyone with information about this case, is asked to contact 41 Action News Investigator Cat Reid at