Police Use of K-9 Violates Civil Rights

March 4, 2012

On January 12, 2012, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police officers violated the 14th Amendment by allowing a prolonged attack by a police dog. Police in Orlando, Florida pulled over Colin Edwards after he ran a stop sign. Edwards initially fled the scene because he was driving with a suspended license. The officers pursued Edwards along with a K-9 unit. The dog led the police to Edwards, who had given up running and was lying on his stomach in an open area. Although Edwards was already prone with his hands showing, the officers ordered Edwards to show his hands. When Edwards did not move, the officers released the dog, which attacked Edwards’s leg for between five and seven minutes. The officers reportedly joked about the attack, describing Edwards’s leg as filet mignon. Edwards required emergency surgery for his injuries, which included damage to the muscles and tendons in his leg.

After Edwards filed a lawsuit against the officers alleging that their conduct amounted to the use of excessive force in violation of the 4th and 14th Amendments, the trial court dismissed the case, finding that the officers were entitled to “qualified immunity” because no reasonable officers would have known that such an attack violated the constitution. The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed, holding that clearly established federal case law prohibits police officers from subjecting a compliant suspect to a prolonged dog attack. While the Appeals Court acknowledged that the initial pursuit with the dog was legal, the court determined that permitting the dog to attack Edwards for upwards of five minutes constituted an excessive use of force.

While not always so graphic and obvious, responding to the police’s use of excessive force can be a daunting task. Ordinarily citizens are defenseless against armed officers and often have very few witnesses beyond other cops on the scene. At Parks, Chesin & Walbert, we have successfully handled a wide variety of police misconduct cases, ranging from false arrest, use of excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and the failure to render medical attention.

The entire opinion can be viewed here.

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