Police Dog Bites Raise Questions about K-9 Training

June 18, 2013

belgianmalinoisask9unit_l.jpgDog bite lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight recent incidents in Orange County, California that are raising concern about the adequacy of the region's K-9 training programs. Similar incidents in the Northwest involve K-9 unit dogs biting innocent bystanders, causing serious injuries and expensive lawsuits.

The California incidents come largely from the Anaheim Police Department's (APD) K-9 unit, which was responsible for a 2011 attack on an 84-year-old man. The man, Robert Rosen, was not suspected of any crime when he crossed paths with a police German Shepherd. Police arrived at his home looking for two fugitive burglars and asked to search Rosen's backyard. Rosen willingly complied, walking the officers out to his gate.

Suddenly and without warning, a dog ran into his yard and attacked him. The dog was a German Shepherd from the APD's K-9 Unit. Rosen suffered serious lacerations to his left arm and his right arm almost had to be amputated.

Police dogs are supposed to target only dangerous people, at the command of their handler. This case, considering the extremely serious injuries the man sustained, raised concerns about the training provided at the APD. In his lawsuit against the city, Rosen argues that police dog training was inadequate, that the dog was unusually dangerous in nature and had vicious propensities.

A few hundred miles to the north of Anaheim, a man named Mark Roberts was the victim of a similar incident in Seattle. Roberts was asleep in his family room when he was jolted awake by a helicopter. He walked out his back door, took a few steps into his driveway, and was suddenly tackled by a K-9 police dog.

Again a German Shepherd, the dog (named Vasko) knocked him to the ground, grabbed his right thigh, and bit repeatedly. He told the Seattle Times the pain was indescribable. He ended up filing a federal lawsuit and receiving $350,000 in a settlement.

Roberts claimed that dog attacked him for at least five minutes before the handler located and called him off. In those five minutes the dog inflicted a wound that crushed the muscles in his thigh, which took nearly two years to heal, and tore flesh from his hand, biceps, and left arm.

Two other bite victims have filed claims against Vasko in recent years, one by a woman who was bitten while the dog was tracking a suspect and the other by a woman who was bitten while she was painting a sign outside. Over the past five years, at least 17 people in the Western Washington area alone claim to been mistakenly bitten by a police dog. The resulting lawsuits have cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in damages, with several large claims still pending.

Two dogs were responsible for nine of these incidents and for more than two-thirds of the damages. Troublingly, even after numerous attacks on innocent bystanders, most K-9s remain on duty. Critics say that the severity and frequency of bites on bystanders are directly related to training. Most K-9 unit dogs in the United States are trained to bite and hold, only releasing upon orders.

In Europe, dogs are trained to track the criminal but circle and bark at them, rather than attack, when located. Dogs bite only if the suspect attempts to flee or if the dog or handler is attacked. A study published in 2006 compared the injuries caused by police dogs to those from domestic dogs. Researchers found much higher rates of hospitalization for those bitten by K-9s. Police dogs were also far more likely to inflict multiple, very serious bites than domestic dogs, and victims were nearly twice as likely to require surgery.

Dog bite attorneys at Pintas & Mullins will continue to report on studies, reports and data surrounding this issue. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by a domestic or police dog attack, you may be entitled to significant compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.