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Lawsuit Moves Forward for Bystander Bitten by Police Dog, Taunted

In November of last year, an Oakley, California, handyman was walking home from work when he allegedly had a nasty encounter with police officers on the hunt for an armed robbery suspect. Assuming they had found their man, law enforcement officers surrounded the handyman.

One officer ordered him to the ground. He started to comply, getting to his knees with his hands over his head, and asked why he had been stopped. That officer allegedly responded by siccing his K9 partner on the man. According to the victim, the dog mauled him, as we discussed on this blog in June, leaving him with 56 puncture wounds from dog bites. Eventually, the officer called off the dog and handcuffed the man.

Officers then brought forward the robbery victim to identify their suspect. They had the wrong man. The handyman was a totally innocent bystander.

None of the officers, which included multiple units from Oakley and Pittsburg, left to pursue the real criminal, the handyman says. Neither did they call for medical assistance. Instead, the gun-wielding officers stood around and taunted the injured man before eventually letting him go home, alone, to seek treatment for his injuries.

The handyman brought a civil rights lawsuit against the lead officer, the Oakley and Pittsburg police departments and those cities, and Contra Costa County. He claims that the unprovoked dog attack constituted negligence, excessive force, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress under both California law and the U.S. Constitution.

On Friday, a federal judge dismissed some of his claims -- some, but not all. She dismissed the assault, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, as those are ordinary, common-law torts and municipal entities such as police departments are immune to such claims.

She provisionally dismissed a couple of other claims because they were filed under the wrong statutes and Constitutional amendments, but he can re-file those claims.

There was still more than enough to his complaint, the judge said, “to show the use of threats, intimidation or coercion" by officers of the law.

"The complaint alleges that the officers drew their guns, taunted [him], and called him insulting names while shouting at him to remain on the ground as he was being attacked by the police dog," the judge wrote. That does indeed seem to be more than sufficient.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Judge Reins In Lawsuit Over Police Dog Attack,” Rebekah Kearn, Nov. 8, 2013

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