Los Angeles

Cops Allow Police Dog to Bite Naked, Unarmed Man

Video raises questions about excessive force.

The NBC4 I-Team has obtained police body cam video — never before seen publicly — that shows cops allowing a K-9 to bite a naked, unarmed man, including for over 40 seconds after officers had him pinned to the ground.

Attorneys who've seen the video say it amounts to excessive force, and raises questions for all police departments about how they use K-9s.

The initial police call came out around 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday in August 2015. Patrol officers with the San Diego Police Department were asked to check on the welfare of a naked man screaming and running through a canyon in University City, a San Diego suburb near La Jolla, according to police reports obtained by the NBC4 I-Team.

WARNING: The full video is extremely graphic and disturbing. It includes footage of a police dog biting a subject’s leg until blood and other injuries are visible. We have not blurred the dog bite portion of video in this version. Viewer discretion is strongly advised. If you wish to see the full video, click here.

It took some time for the officers to locate the man hiding in a rustic canyon area surrounded by homes and a high school. Officers believed the man was under the influence of a controlled substance, which the man later admitted to NBC4 was true. 

In the police video, you see officers asking the naked man to walk up the hillside toward them. He complies with their commands until he gets to the top of the canyon.

You hear the officers ordering the man to "turn around, turn around." He says "no" several times in a defiant voice.

Just two seconds later, and without warning, the K-9 officer gives his police dog the command to bite the subject.

The dog takes down the man immediately. Then four officers pinned the man to the ground, but allowed the dog to violently bite the man’s leg for 44 more seconds. Other San Diego Police Officers hold the subject down and cuff him.

"It wasn’t necessary to use the dog to begin with and it sure as hell wasn’t necessary or needed or appropriate to let the dog continue to bite," said noted civil rights attorney Donald W. Cook.

The NBC4 I-Team watched the video with Cook, who has represented hundreds of people bitten by police dogs over a 30-year career. He does not represent the man in the police video.

"It’s barbaric," he said.

The man, a 25-year-old businessman in San Diego for a convention, told NBC4 he ended up naked in that canyon after a night of hard partying.

"I take some responsibility because I was under the influence," said the man, who asked not to be named. "But nothing justifies the cops used of such force," he said.

Added attorney Cook, "It's not just a San Diego problem. It's a problem in any department where they’re letting a dog attack and bite non-dangerous suspect."

Cook, along with a group of other attorneys, sued the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1990s after another video of a police dog biting an unarmed suspect was released to the public. The City of Los Angeles settled that suit for $3.6 million and agreed to "revamp its policy for the use of force by dogs."

"The number of bites went way down," said Cook.

Despite his concerns, Cook says that police dogs can serve an important role in law enforcement, such as sniffing for bombs or finding hidden, armed suspects.

"But not to attack and mutilate people like you see in the video," said Cook.

San Diego Police Department policy states "if possible, give at least two warnings in a loud and clear manner" before allowing a dog to bite.

But the video shows that no warning was given and the K9 officer wrote in his official police report that, "due to the immediate threat I did not have an opportunity to give K-9 warnings."

He went on to say that he believed the man "posed an immediate threat to officers due to the fact he was clinching his fists and walking towards them."

He also states that the subject "was under the influence of a controlled substance and was very agitated with officers."

Cook says that after watching the video he didn’t see any threatening behavior from the unarmed man toward police. And after reading the officers' reports, he doesn't believe they were justified in using the dog and says the force was excessive.

READ: Handler's Report

"Not only excessive, but animalistic," said Cook. "In this case, you had your subject, you had him surrounded. All you had to do was simply take him into custody."

READ: Incident Report

The man in the video wasn’t charged with any crimes, and he sued the City of San Diego for excessive force. In the legal complaint, his attorney says the officers "acted with unnecessary, cruel and despicable conduct and in wanton disregard for the civil rights, health and safety" of his client.

In the city’s legal response, they wrote, "At all times, the conduct of the defendants was reasonable, lawful, based on probable cause and within the scope of their official duties and employment."

Last week, the San Diego City Council approved a $385,000 settlement.

But the man, who asked not to be named, told NBC4 by phone the incident has left his right leg partially and permanently disabled. "No dollar amount is worth having a disability for life," he said.

The NBC4 I-Team wanted to speak with the San Diego Police Department about this case and their procedures regarding the use of dogs. They declined to speak with us. The San Diego City Attorney didn’t respond to our request for an interview.

The man in the video told NBC4 that he was in the hospital for two weeks. He says the injuries sustained during the bite will cost him the full use of his right leg for the rest of his life.

Cook hopes the release of this video will change San Diego Police Department policy and make other law enforcement agencies take a hard look at their policies and practices on how they use canines.

"The officers seem oblivious to what we as the viewer can see in the video, which is this is horrific," said Cook. "How can you let this go on for so long?"

The San Diego Police Department spokesman Lt. Scott Wahl issued this statement Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016:

"This video shows the agitated and defiant demeanor of a man under the influence of LSD. When played in its entirety, the video shows our officers trying to gain his compliance before he became defiant. While the split second decisions of police officers are easy to second guess when you know the outcome, keep in mind the deployment of our K9 is intended to prevent the situation from escalating."

WARNING: The full video is extremely graphic and disturbing. It includes footage of a police dog biting a subject’s leg until blood and other injuries are visible. We have not blurred the dog bite portion of video in this version. Viewer discretion is strongly advised. If you wish to see the full video, click here.

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