After working a long day, Cheryl Buchanan decided to take her dog, a 3½-year-old pug named Siri, for a stroll downtown as she searched for a late-night bite to eat.
The walk was cut short when Siri stepped on an electrical junction box. The box was left electrically charged on the sidewalk in front of the Walter Soboleff building construction site on Front Street. The pug was electrocuted and killed instantly.
“It happened so fast, it was like a minute maybe,” Buchanan, 60, said in an interview Friday. “She stepped on that metal plate, she started yelping and crying and then she went down.”
The street was busy — people were still out from the December First Friday Gallery Walk. Two men across the street at the Viking saw the incident and ran over to help.
“One man bent over to pick her up, and he jumped up and said, ‘Wow! Did you see that? I got shocked,’” Buchanan recalled. “So he couldn’t pick her up. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her to be able to pick her up. But she was already gone.”
Now, Buchanan is demanding answers — and not just into the circumstances surrounding her dog’s death. She said she was handcuffed at the scene by Juneau police officers for threatening or intimidating an officer.
“When I said, ‘Why am I being handcuffed?’, the officer said for threatening an officer,” Buchanan said. “And I can be a real smart mouth, but I know my civil rights.”
Buchanan, a longtime Juneau resident, said she was upset her dog just died but not hysterical or a threat. She said there were about a dozen witnesses surrounding her, and she asked them if they saw her “take one step” toward the officer or threaten him in any way.
“That’s why they let me go,” she said.
Juneau Police Department spokeswoman Erann Kalwara said she could not discuss why Buchanan was handcuffed, but that she could speak generally as to why police officers would do that.
“That in particular will happen if someone’s very agitated and not listening or not doing things that — and their behavior may put someone else in danger,” Kalwara said by phone Friday.
When asked how a 60-year-old unarmed woman, about 110 pounds and less than 5’ 2”, could intimidate a young, armed officer, Kalwara said essentially that size doesn’t matter.
“It really doesn’t depend on the size of the person because any person can hurt another person or cause harm to somebody else,” she said. “Sometime’s it’s just about a safety issue either for the officer or for other people that are around them, if they’re not following commands that will help keep another person safe.”
Before she was released from handcuffs, Buchanan said she told the officer it was grounds for a lawsuit.
“His response was, ‘Well, you can take that up with the city attorney,’” she said.
Buchanan said she was deeply “disturbed” by the incident and later went to the JPD station to request the police records into the case. She was not arrested and is not facing charges, but the records were not yet releasable since the case is still active.
“It was uncalled for,” she said, adding that she has raised her concerns with city officials.
An Animal Control officer arrived on scene after that, whom Buchanan described as “wonderful.” They walked around downtown while she cooled down. The Animal Control officer also obtained her permission to take custody of Siri’s remains for an autopsy. There was a problem with the procedure, though, and Buchanan is still waiting for her dog’s remains.
“It’s just a family tradition that pets are buried in the yard, and we have a ceremony,” she said. “That’s just the way it is. And you can’t do that without a body.”
City officials told the Empire last week that they have fixed the immediate problem with the electrically charged street lighting junction box, which is city property, but they don’t know why it was left charged. The city’s risk manager is investigating to determine liability. The investigation could be completed as soon as early next week, risk manager Jennifer Mannix said Friday.
With many unanswered questions, Buchanan is having a difficult time coming to grips with the loss of her beloved pet.
“I wish I could sleep. I wish I could eat,” she said. “I wish every time I shut my eyes, the events wouldn’t just loop endlessly.”
She described Siri — named after the talking iPhone app because of her stubborn bossiness — as a sweet, funny dog.
“She was an engaging dog,” she remembered. “She had a personality that was very, very sweet. And she loved to cuddle.”
She said she won’t be able to move on until she gets some answers.
“I want an answer,” she said. “Why did my dog die? Why is my dog dead?”