Mississippi Police K9 Dog Bite Cases

On occasion, an innocent bystander can be the victim of a police K9 dog bite attack. Often, this can happen when a person is standing near a patrol car, and the K9 escapes from the car. Other times, an innocent victim could be walking on a public street and just happen to be in the pathway of a police K9 who is looking for a suspect. While it is rarely talked about, police dogs do bite innocent people, and, in some cases, the injuries are severe.

An expert on dog bites, Richard Polsky, reviewed more than two dozen instances of a police K9 biting an innocent bystander. Polsky set out to find in each of these cases whether the police dog had actually been “deployed” by its handler, the breed of the dog, the gender of the victim, the area where the bites occurred, and whether the dog was on or off a leash. Polsky’s finding included the following:

  • When an innocent bystander is bitten by a police K9, the dog was most often not on a leash, and was in active pursuit of a suspect.
  • In most of the cases, the dog had been given a command to search for and apprehend a suspect.
  • Most of the attacks on innocent bystanders happened after dark, some in yard of the innocent bystander.
  • Even the most well-trained police K9 is subject to making a mistake, attacking a person other than the subject they are pursuing.
  • Even when the handler has the dog on a leash and is “in control” of the K9, about 18 percent of the total number of attacks on innocent bystanders occurred in such a situation.
  • Nearly a full third of the attacks occurred when the police dog was not in service or in pursuit of a suspect.
  • In 16 percent of the total number of instances of the K9 biting an innocent bystander, the victims were bitten on the arms or legs.
  • For reasons not well-understood, in 77 percent of the incidences of K9’s biting innocent bystanders, the victim was male.

Overall, police K9 handlers tend to be defensive of their “partners,” and rarely want to acknowledge any type of behavioral error made by the dog. Some of the more common types of behavioral errors made by police K9’s include the following:

  • K9’s tend to stay in a high state of aggressive arousal.
  • This aggressive arousal state makes the dogs difficult to control.
  • Police patrol dogs are prone to attack the first person they encounter when searching for a suspect.
  • The K9 handlers often have a problem convincing the dog to stop attacking on a verbal command—it is motivationally difficult even for the best-trained dog and the most experienced handler.
  • Even K9’s that have been involved in an unwarranted attack will continue to stay in service.
  • Some departments have shifted from the “bite and hold” training to alert by barking, rather than biting after the suspect has been located.

Cases of K9 Dog Bites on Innocent Victims

Just this last September, a five-year old Mississippi boy was bitten by an off-duty K9, near Harrisonburg. Although the boy’s mother is seeking damages for the injuries inflicted on her son (bites all over his body, except for his face), the dog’s handler said the child provoked the dog. It appears the boy and his sister went into the yard where the dog, Rambo, lived, and the boy hit the dog. Rambo’s handler says he had repeatedly told the children not to go into the yard, and that Rambo was simply “defending his territory.

In a recent Nevada case, the police released a K9 into the car of a man, even after they realized it was not the man they were looking for. Unfortunately, the police were unaware there was a 17-month old child in the car. By the time they could stop the K9, it had already bitten the child, leaving her with nine wounds on her right arm.

It is important to remember that trained K9’s are not machines, therefore are prone to making mistakes. The dogs are trained using techniques known as operant conditioning, which teaches them to respond to certain commands from their handler, eliciting an aggressive reaction toward a specific target. Despite how well-trained a police dog could be, all K9s can make behavioral mistakes such as attacking when not commanded to do so, failing to stop an attack after receiving a verbal command to do so, or attacking at the wrong time. Furthermore, the manner in which the handler employs the dog, as well as less than adequate police department policies and procedures, can lead to innocent individuals being injured.

Cases of K9 Dog Bites on suspects that have surrendered to law enforcement

Oftentimes, K9’s are used to locate or pursue individuals that are trying to evade law enforcement. While the use of the dogs to locate and secure these individuals is most of the time appropriate, like any other dangerous weapon/tool utilized by law enforcement, the police handler should only use that amount of force necessary to detain the suspect—and no more. Even today, there exists confusion within police departments as to when it is appropriate to use a K9 and for what types of criminal suspects. For example: Should a K9 be used to “bite and hold” someone suspected of committing a minor traffic offense? What about someone suspected of shoplifting? What about someone that initially tried to evade police, but surrendered prior to engagement of the K9? The answer, in part, must rely upon whether the use of the K9 is reasonable under the circumstances and whether the use of the K9 in such circumstances would constitute use of excessive force. These types of cases are often very fact specific, require experience actually litigating them, and demand a working knowledge of the law (state and federal).

Getting Help from the Stroud Law Firm

If you or a loved one has received a serious injury from a police K9 (whether as an innocent bystander or a police suspect), you have rights which may have been violated and deserve protection from an experienced attorney from the Stroud Law Firm. We understand the trauma of such an attack and we have represented numerous individuals that have suffered these injuries. It is important to stand up and speak out against the overuse of K9’s and abuse by handlers, even though you may feel as if you are fighting an uphill battle. If you suffered a K9 bite from a dog at the Olive Branch Police Department, the Horn Lake Police Department, the Desoto County Sheriff’s Department, or the Southaven Police Department, call the Stroud Law Firm at (662) 536-5656, and we will be happy to discuss with you whether you have a potential claim.