There has been a serious debate over whether law enforcement agencies should use police dogs to apprehend suspects and criminals. San Jose Police Department received a lot of backlashes recently about the role of their police dog and the damage done over the past few years. Let’s explore the details of the news report with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys.
Santa Clara County Sheriff Sgt. Sean Allen has witnessed over 200 police dog bite incidents while serving in the San Jose Police Department. According to Allen, the damage inflicted by police dogs is almost similar to shark bites and can leave a person with shattered bones, pieces of limbs torn off, and severe disfigurement.
What’s shocking is that most police dog bite incidents involve people running or hiding from law enforcement officers. In many cases, most of these people who run or go into hiding are not even suspects or criminals. They’re people who fear the police and, in a panic, decide to run for it when they see a law enforcement officer approaching them. To a San Jose police officer, a running man raises suspicion and alarm, causing them to release the police dog to catch and apprehend the person.
Allen raised concerns over the lack of training of police officers that led to innocent people suffering serious injuries from police dog bites. Often, dog bites can lead to severe emotional trauma, scarring the victims for life. In some cases, dog bites can be fatal, resulting in a slow and painful death.
Currently, California state laws allow police officers the authority to decide whether they should use a police dog in a particular situation. No clear rules or statewide standards address how and when an officer should use a police dog. This grey area in the law has allowed the San Jose Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across California to manage canine units to their liking.
Allen and several advocacy groups in San Jose are urging the state to create standards to help prevent unnecessary injuries and casualties across the city. Until then, the group is requesting the state and the San Jose law enforcement agency to ban using canine units.
There must be other ways to apprehend people without tearing off the flesh or causing bones to shatter. People who are presumed innocent must not have to worry about getting attacked by the San Jose police dog while walking down a street or sitting in their cars.
Under the San Jose police dog policy, the officers have full authority to release canine units when required to track and bite people suspected of a crime or resisting law enforcement officers. The law also allows police officers to deploy dogs to neutralize armed individuals or those threatening law enforcement officers.
A San Jose Police Department representative stated that the canines responsible for apprehending violent felony suspects and terrorists are the department’s critical assets. According to Sgt. Christian Camarillo, canine units with their officers go through intense training to ensure the safety of the public and its police officers.
According to an investigation by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit online journalism organization, San Jose police dogs have bitten 167 people in the last five years, the highest number of dog bites recorded by a police department in California.
Most of the 167 dog bites involve black or other people of color. Black residents make up 14% of the police dog bite incidents in San Jose, a staggering figure, especially when black residents only make up 3% of the entire San Jose population.
Hispanic residents are the ones seriously affected by police canine attacks. Although they comprise 31% of the city’s population, they contribute to more than half of police dog bite incidents.
When you compare these figures to the white population, the disproportionate representation becomes clear. White people represent 35% of the city’s population but comprise only 20% of the police canine bites. Such dog bite statistics make the San Jose police dog bite problem a racial justice issue and is becoming a serious problem for the taxpayer.
Every year, the city has to dish out millions of dollars to compensate injured victims who pursue lawsuits against the San Jose Police Department.
There is an ongoing case against the San Jose Police Department where a police dog bit a man whose girlfriend robbed a store. In February 2020, a San Jose police officer deployed a canine on Anthony Paredes, a 41-year-old resident, suspecting him of assisting his girlfriend in a liquor store robbery.
The police body camera video showed the canine latching his teeth into the man’s throat for a solid minute before letting go. The dog shredded his windpipe and fractured his thyroid cartilage, affecting his ability to sing every Sunday at the Church. Paredes sued the San Jose Police Department for $11 million.
According to the police report, Paredes threatened the store clerk with a knife, but CCTV footage shows that the victim never brandished a knife. Civil rights attorney Izaak Schwaiger, who is representing Paredes, stated that the police deployed the dog on Paredes, who was hiding in a trashcan, and then started to pull on the canine, which is against training provided to canine units as dogs have curved teeth and pulling them back can cause further tears.
Pro-K9 advocates like Don Cameron, a retired Bay Area police officer, believe it is necessary for law enforcement officers to use force, especially in the case of Paredes. The suspect was hiding in a trashcan, making it difficult for the police to use batons, and there was serious doubt about whether he had any weapons with him at the time of the arrest.
Another shocking incident occurred in 2017 when the San Jose police officers arrived at a home to serve an arrest warrant. The police alleged that the situation required the use of police dogs, but when they deployed the canine, officer body camera footage showed that the police dog bit a 22-month-old girl who suffered serious injuries from the traumatic encounter. Fortunately, the Police Department agreed to cover the girl’s medical bills.
It’s not just San Jose, where the police department is running a “purge,” but other cities as well. In 2011, there was a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Hayward, a city in Alameda County, after a police dog fatally attacked a wrong person. The city settled the case with the grieving family for $1.5 million.
The problem lies within the police department. The incidents mentioned above are just a few that get reported by the department or the media. Many police dog bite incidents occur that do not get reported and remain buried with the help of the Police Department.
Police Departments such as the San Jose Police Department fail to hold the officers responsible for their actions. Most police officers continue to use excessive force in situations where there is no need for such actions. It is much easier to justify the injuries when they deploy a canine than to justify an officer hitting the person in the head 40 times before arresting them.
The officers also do not receive training on the presumption of innocence. There is a negative culture among law enforcement, where those who run or hide from the police are often presumed guilty. However, many people of color have seen police brutality firsthand and are afraid of facing similar consequences. Even though they’re innocent, their fear forces them to run or go into hiding.
Police departments must bring in leaders who promote values and help transition from the negative culture within law enforcement agencies. Leaders who care about the community can hold officers accountable for their negligence and ensure that the police department operates with integrity and sincerity while serving and protecting the residents.
Although law enforcement agencies can legally use police dogs when apprehending suspects or terrorists, state laws vary on how and when they can deploy their K-9 units.
Under California law, every police department and an officer has the authority to use canines if they feel that the situation requires them to. Such loose laws make it challenging for injured victims to pursue a lawsuit against the state, but it’s not impossible.
Using K-9 units must be reasonable, and the court will look at many factors before determining whether the police officer was responsible for the damages caused. Some of these factors include:
Use of excessive force, which includes deploying police dogs, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights. Innocent bystanders have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the Police Department to recover damages incurred from police dog bites.
If the victim is a suspect in a crime, the police cannot use excessive force unless there is no other option. As discussed above, law enforcement officers take advantage of the power that comes with their badges. In some cases, they end up abusing suspects by using excessive force when not necessary.
Injured victims, in such situations, may be able to bring a lawsuit under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is best to consult with an experienced civil rights attorney to learn more about your rights.
Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys do not practice civil rights law, but we have over 15 years of experience handling personal injury claims in California.
If you’ve suffered injuries due to the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation.
Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.
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