updated 12/5/2005 12:33:48 PM ET 2005-12-05T17:33:48

The Supreme Court refused Monday to muscle into a dispute between the Hells Angels and California law enforcement agencies over the shooting of three family pets during a police search.

That means officers can be sued by the biker group over 1998 raids that an appeals court said went too far.

The case presented an interesting question for the justices: what type of constitutional protection does someone have when police executing a search warrant shoots a pet?

For now, the justices declined to answer it.

Attorneys for the San Jose and Santa Clara county officers said that the officers had to kill the dogs, a 100-pound Rottweiler at one house and two dogs that resembled bull-mastiffs at another, to protect their safety.

Lawyers for the San Jose charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club said that officers had a week to plan their searches, which were coordinated to happen at the same time early one January morning.

They had other options, including using pepper spray or asking for help from an animal control officer, the lawyers said.

The case dates back to 1997, when a carpenter was beaten to death in a San Jose strip club, the Pink Poodle.

A member of Hells Angels was arrested — although he was later found innocent — and police received information that the Hells Angels had a videotape of the beating.

‘Intrusion was severe’
Police coordinated a search of the homes of Hells Angels members and the group's club house.

They found no videotape, but seized everything with Hells Angels symbols.

That meant truckloads of Harley Davidson motorcycles, belts, hats, vests, sculptures, and pictures, as well as a refrigerator door that had a decal on it and a concrete block from the sidewalk.

No seized items were used at the murder trial, justices were told.

"The intrusion was severe," the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in allowing the Hells Angels to sue.

The cases are Decena and Linderman v. San Jose Charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, 05-37, 05-45.

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