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Grieving family mourns beloved pet emu killed during police capture

The emu's owner says the family plans on pressing charges against the county for not following proper procedures to keep the animal safe.
Grieving family mourns beloved pet emu killed during police capture
Posted at 8:28 PM, Oct 07, 2023

An Arizona family is mourning the loss of their escaped pet emu, which was killed during an attempt by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office officers to capture and load the bird into their patrol car.

Last week, their 6-year-old emu, Richard, escaped their backyard, possibly to avoid a coyote attack, her owner, Stephanie Gibbons Moilan, explains.

Moilan was not home at the time because a microburst—intense winds from rain clouds—had damaged her home's roof. When she returned, she saw that Richard was missing. She has escaped before to avoid coyotes, and Moilan usually asks her neighbors on Nextdoor or Facebook for help locating her.

A neighbor quickly contacted her, telling her they had spotted Richard on a security camera.

“I was getting my shoes on, and within five minutes I got another call from the lady whose husband witnessed it all and got those videos, letting me know that the sheriff's had killed Richard. So, there was not enough time, I feel like, even for them to have tried to look for the owner,” Moilan tells Scripps News.

In a video shared by Moilan with Scripps News, Richard is seen on the ground with a rope around her neck as the officers attempt to put her in their vehicle. The bird resisted, pushing against the door, and then collapsed. The neighbor taking the video shows a man walking towards Richard to check on her, then says, “I don’t think she’s breathing anymore.”

According to the sheriff's office, on Sept. 28, a call was received about a loose emu in the neighborhood, then the officials attempted to seek assistance from the Department of Agriculture but were not successful.

“Deputies located the emu standing in the street and took a slip lead used on dogs to lead the animal to the patrol vehicle to remove it from the area,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement obtained by Scripps News. “Deputies tried to coax the emu into the back seat of the vehicle, but the emu would not move. While this was going on, the emu got onto its back and started kicking at the truck and the open door. While the emu was kicking, the lead got wrapped around one of its legs. Deputies released the lead to remove the lead from the emu’s leg and realized the emu had passed.”

Deputies said they searched the area for the potential owner and asked onlookers if they knew the emu's owner, but their efforts were in vain. However, they were aware of Richard's prior escapes and said that she was an aggressive bird, as she had previously kicked a Deputy Service Aid in the leg.

Which Moilan claims is completely untrue.

“My dad requested an incident report from Maricopa County, and they replied back with an email saying there are no incident reports for Richard the emu. Why are they lying? It's so clear that they intervene in a situation,” said Moilan. “She's super gentle and calm; she just walks; she doesn't bother anyone. She's super chill. They had no business intervening. If they had given me even 10 minutes, Richard would have just walked home.”

Moilan says the family plans on pressing charges against the county. 

"I'm most disappointed in their dishonesty and their lack of compassion," said Moilan. "They didn't follow any policy or procedures that they have in place to help protect animals in Arizona."

Officials took custody of the emu's body, without notifying Moilan, and disposed of it on state trust land.

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