A police department in Missouri has come under scrutiny after cell phone video posted online showed a police dog biting a Black suspect during an arrest earlier this week.
The footage begins with three officers from the Woodson Terrace Police Department arresting a suspect who is bent over the hood of a police cruiser. Two of the officers were behind the man while a third entered the frame from the right side with a police dog. The dog was barking; the suspect appears to be repeatedly yelling, “not the dog.”
The officer holds the dog by a leash, but allows the animal to inch closer to the suspect. The dog then bites the man’s right foot and leg as the two officers who were behind him back away a few feet. Those officers then advanced and pulled the suspect to the ground while the dog was still biting his leg. The suspect can be heard screaming for help as the situation continued on for about 30 seconds.
The officer pulls the dog away for a few seconds and the suspect is permitted to get up from a prone position. Seconds later, the dog is released again and resumes biting the suspect.
Michael Gould, a police canine expert who specializes in forensic dog handling, described the footage as “problematic” in an interview with St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK-TV.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s a human reflex response, you can’t have an 80-pound dog puncturing your skin and be compliant. It’s virtually impossible,” Gould said. “There could be underlying factors that I’m not aware of, but it was disturbing and I would look into it very carefully, why other levels of force would not have been utilized. Based on what I said and saw it looked like the subject was under control.”
A press release posted to the department’s Facebook page on Monday said a local business called about the suspect trespassing and refusing to leave private property and that when police arrived he “immediately started threatening to kill the officers.” The department said the suspect also “identified as a sovereign citizen” — one who does not recognize government authority — while blocking traffic and appearing to be under the influence of drugs. Per the department, he also allegedly refused to comply with officers’ orders to place his hands behind his back.
“The officers attempted to get the subject to cooperate with them but the subject continued resisting. The subject was then warned several times that if he did not comply the K9 would be released. The subject continued to resist causing minor injuries to one of the officers so the K9 was released and the K9 gained control of the suspect’s foot,” the department said. “The suspect went to the ground and the K9 was pulled off the subject. After the K9 was pulled off of the suspect the officers attempted to place the subject into handcuffs but due to the subject being under the influence of drugs he continued to resist and the officers were unable to restrain the subject. The subject got up and attempted to flee from the officers and the K9 was released again biting the suspect on his leg.”
Police also allegedly found methamphetamine on the suspect “which would explain why the officers were unable to restrain the subject,” the department said.
The editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the encounter harkened back to the tactics used against Black protesters during the civil rights movement.
“This incident bears all the hallmarks of cops deciding to issue their personal form of street justice — inflicting pain and punishment on the spot instead of waiting for the courts to do their job,” the board wrote Tuesday.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell on Wednesday told The Associated Press that his was “aware of this video.” He aded that his department would “make a thorough review of the incident” but declined to comment further.
The Woodson Terrace Police Department did not immediately respond to a message from Law&Crime seeking comment.
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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