Bitten by a Police Canine: Can the victim Claim Damages?
Sara Lowry has filed a civil rights action with the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit against the City of San Diego for its promulgation of a “bite and hold” dog apprehension policy. Ms. Lowry claims that, due to this policy, her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.
The following is the details of the events that caused the lawsuit:
After Ms. Lowry spent some hours drinking vodka with her friends, she decided to go back to her office where she eventually fell asleep on a couch. Ms. Lowry awoke a little later, used the bathroom and then went back to sleep (on the same couch). Unconsciously, however, she had set off a burglar alarm.
Responding to the alarm were three officers who took with them a service dog called Bak. As the police arrived at the building, they called out (about three times) to whoever was inside the office, the door of which was ajar, and warned that they will send a police dog inside unless the person comes out. The officers had no idea whatsoever who was inside the office and if the person was armed.
No response came from the sleeping Ms. Lowry who the dog saw and bit on the lip. Bak let go of Ms. Lowry only after one of the officers pulled (Bak) off. After ascertaining that Ms. Lowry was not a burglar and that it was, in fact, her office, the officers took her to a hospital where she was given medical treatment for her bleeding wound.
During the pre-trial, it was found out that police dogs are trained to “bite and hold” the first person they encounter at a scene; they are not trained, however, how to identify the good guys from the bad ones. While this system of training police dogs may be a bad one, the district court, which heard the case, said that it made no violation in Ms. Lowry’s Constitutional rights; the case was dismissed, therefore.
Though the plaintiff, Ms. Lowry, may not have received a decision that is in her favor, it does not mean that the State or the Police department is outrightly exempt if a police canine attacks someone who may be innocent and/or with unnecessary excessive force.