Medical Professionals: California New Laws Fail to Address K-9 Incidents with Civilians

By Helen Shamamyan

BENICIA, CA – Gary Gregory suffered from a torn jugular vein, facial scars, and nerve damage after an attack by a police dog during its accidental release, and the attack wasn’t a one-of-a-kind incident, according to an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee by a team of medical professionals.

And they note new legislation may well fail to make any difference.

The authors include William Weber, an emergency physician at Rush University and medical director of Medical Justice Alliance, a nonprofit which supports the medical rights of people behind bars; Altaf Saadi, a neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; and Minali Nigam, a neurology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard teaching hospitals.

Weber, Saadi and Nigam are three of six co-authors of “Unleashed Brutality: An Expert Medical Opinion on the Health Harms from California Police Attack Dogs,” published in Physicians for Human Rights.

The Bee Op-Ed said policemen were near Gregory’s neighborhood of residence searching for a gunman when they apprehended the pedestrian—Gregory was complying with police orders and kneeling on the ground when the K-9 jumped out of the vehicle due to its handler’s negligence and bit into his neck, causing severe mental and physical harm to his body.

The Op-Ed included footage of the attack, showing the dog latched onto Gregory’s body for 25 seconds before having to be forcibly removed by the handling officer.

Irma Widjojo, the Benicia police spokesperson, was quoted in a Vallejo Sun article stating, “We take these types of incidents very seriously and had brought in a third-party impartial investigator to thoroughly look into the matter…We have put the recommended steps in place at the conclusion of the investigation.”

An investigation conducted by Chaplin and Hill Investigative Services—a firm owned and operated by former law enforcement officers that Benicia hired to conduct its administrative investigation—determined the dog had freed itself from a police car when its handler left the car door open, the article notes.

The Bee Op-Ed noted the firm concluded Benicia police should change its policies regarding dogs to “protect the public from unintentional contact with the canine.”

Scott Morris at the Vallejo Sun similarly wrote the investigators released a statement that the Benicia police need to revise their policies and procedures to “protect the public from unintentional contact with the canine.”

One of the officers at the scene, the Op-Ed added, was Andrew Stafford, who stated the dog “literally came out of nowhere. It shocked me,” adding he wasn’t certain if the dog was intentionally deployed or not.

Morris wrote Officer Stafford told investigators he heard the handler, Officer Francis, mutter, “F–ck. No,” when he began to attempt prying the dog off of Gregory.

The aforementioned article also states that Officer Francis did not give warning to Gregory prior to the dog attacking. Assistant City Attorney, Eli Fushman wrote a letter to the Vallejo Sun stating, “No officer made a decision to use force via canine…The injury sustained, while unfortunate, was the result of an accidental action of an animal.”

The Op-Ed authors said, after reviewing a multitude of police dog attack cases from the past decade, they were alarmed at the “degree of harm people have suffered due to police attack dogs, including permanent injuries, disfigurement and disability.”

Posted on the website, Physicians for Human Rights, Weber and Saadi also wrote a related article documenting the SoCal ACLU’s review of countless cases where police canine were deployed against people who posed “no threat of danger to the police officers or others,” such as scenes of minor crimes like petty theft, traffic violations, or the conduction of wellness checks at people’s residences.

The Bee Op-Ed confirmed almost half of Californians who were killed or mauled by an attack dog exhibited signs of having a mental health issue or disability.

California Assembly Bill 3241 and 2042 are the latest attempts to diminish the dangers of police dog attacks, although Weber and Saadi said in the Op-Ed they are inadequate.

AB 3241, the Op-Ed argued, would require “the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to adopt minimum guidelines for the use of police attack dogs and requires agencies to report only legitimate deployments,” which could easily lead to under-reporting incidents that were deemed “accidental” by the police.

AB 2042 would also lead to the commission creating guidelines at their own discretion, “maintaining the status quo,” said the authors in their Bee Op-Ed.

The Op-Ed declared, “Innocent Californians have been mauled by police dogs. Weak legislation doesn’t fix issues,” and they call for solutions to the use of canines in instances of force due to the severe repercussions to the individuals, one of which is formulating strict federal and state limitations for K-9 use.

About The Author

I am a student from Southern California that's graduating this year from UC Berkeley. Prior to coming here, I worked as a court watch/ law clerk for a PEO in worker's comp cases of California warehouses. I reported the hearing summaries and outcomes to the employer and maintained correspondence with the attornies prior to and after each hearing on behalf of my boss. I have nearly completed by Bachelors in English, and I am planning on taking a break year before delving into law school to study civil rights defense.

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