Officers Will Now Call Proprietors Before Sending in Dog
BY QUINCY ORHAI
A month after a Livingston police dog injured a cook in a local tavern, who had returned to his kitchen after hours, the Livingston Police Department changed its policy regarding deploying its dog to search businesses during security checks.
In a recent interview regarding the city’s K-9 procedures, Police Chief Darren Raney told the Pioneer that “The LPD policy will be revised to no longer send in a dog without specific consent of the business owner, after confirming that no one is authorized to be in the building.”
At 2:30 a.m., August 22, during a downtown security check, the LPD found the Main Street entrance to a building complex unlocked. A police officer announced his presence, calling into an entrance that accesses a 60 foot hallway leading to Park Place Tavern. The police dog, Bobi, after charging down the hallway and around a corner into the tavern, found Kitchen Manager Mark Demaline and bit him severely on the thigh. The canine took Demaline to the floor and held him down until the dog handler, Officer Andrew Emanuel, arrived in the tavern and ordered Bobi to release the emotionally traumatized cook, who suffered multiple punctures to his upper thigh.
Initially handcuffed, the police released Demaline when his identity and right of entry were verified by the business owner, Glenn Godward. Demaline was then transported by the police to the emergency room at Livingston Memorial Hospital.
News of the police dog attack, first publicized by Rose Brown in the Livingston Enterprise, then in this publication and on radio station KMMS, provoked public outrage and criticism regarding the manner in which the dog was deployed. Quickly, the story went national on internet blogs, the most prominent voice criticizing the Livingston Police Department’s decision to use the dog as it did (and not to have apologized) being legal expert Jonathan Turley, a well known commentator on Cable TV (see page 7).
According to Chief Raney, the incident happened during a routine downtown security check, when officers check doors and locks for signs of forced entry. Businesses are checked on foot, Raney told the Pioneer, and doors to see if they are locked. If a door is found unlocked, the officer searches the building and contacts the business owner.
After police secure the building, the business owner checks the building’s contents, Raney said. The search is conducted, according to Raney, for the safety of the business owner, so that he or she may re-enter their property, and to avoid a situation where a burglar or trespasser confronts an owner. Business owners never object to such a search, Raney told us.
That changed though in the wake of the dog attack on Demaline, as downtown tavern owners, employees, and residents voiced concern and outrage—to representatives of this publication and among themselves—over what they saw as the haphazard manner in which the police dog was used to attack an innocent man at his place of work.
Glenn Godward, owner of the tavern where the attack occurred, visited Chief Raney in person to protest the way the dog was used and LPD’s failure to call him in advance of sending in the dog. Godward asked why he had not been called before the dog was sent in, and was told by Raney, according to Godward, that the officers did not have his contact information, to which Godward said he replied, “I’ve been in the phone book for 40 years.”
For this report, Raney acknow-ledged Godward’s position as owner of the tavern where the incident occurred, saying, “[Godward] was concerned about the search being done with a dog, instead of with officers, and obviously he is disturbed about the injuries to his employee.”
Chief Raney, at that time, defended his officers and their use of the dog in public comments. “It’s acceptable for the dog to confront anybody in the business at that hour,” he told the Livingston Enterprise.
The police officers that found the open door were following Livingston Police Department procedures, Raney emphasized in his interview with the Pioneer. “The decision to use the canine to search Park Place Tavern was with the best intentions. Unfortunately, an employee was inside and sustained a bite. During building searches the canine is trained to bite and hold anyone they encounter. They bite and secure the person until the handler responds, takes control, and releases the dog. This is what happened with the employee.”
“The dog, sent in as a search tool,” Raney also said, “does a better job finding and apprehending a suspect than an officer…Anyone caught trespassing or unlawfully in a business after hours will be appre-hended or questioned to determine whether they are there lawfully—that is what police do.”
Taking issue with the Livingston Enterprise’s characterizations, of the incident, Raney said, “There was no mauling or ferocious attack—the dog was just doing as he was trained to do under the circumstances.”
Demaline posted a YouTube video shortly after the attack, revealing puncture wounds to his upper thigh that required a hospital visit and weeks of recuperation before returning to work.
In an August 29 editorial in the Enterprise, a week after the attack, and before the more recent change in K-9 policy, Raney defended his department and their procedures in the following way, writing, “The mere presence of officers on foot in the downtown area is a deterrent to those contemplating crime. Our intentions are nothing more than to proactively protect our businesses and safeguard the community. Over the past 10 years, the numbers of burglaries in our community have reduced significantly and remain the lowest in at least the past 40 years. I credit aggressive, proactive patrol and security checks routinely conducted by our officers.”
According to Raney, the Park Place Tavern routinely closes early. On August 22, the bar was closed for hours before the incident, he told the Pioneer. Officers checked around the building and found no sign of anyone inside, and no car parked in the parking lot that appeared to belong to anyone associated with the business. “Any lights left on in the tavern either could not be seen, or were not noticed,” he said.
Godward, though, questioned parts of the official police account of what happened that night, saying, “lights would have been on in the building,” indicating an employee presence that police could have observed through the tavern’s large windows.
The LPD’s position is that they did not “notice” that any lights were on, having performed a perimeter check, which would require walking around the corner of Main and Park to the tavern’s patio, climbing the patio fence or gate, crossing the patio to the windowed entrance, then proceeding farther around the complex to a parking lot behind the tavern and another sizable window near the kitchen (where Demaline returned that night to make a salad).
Other conflicting statements arose in press reports, when, according to the Enterprise, Demaline said that, while riding in a patrol car to the hospital, a police officer told him he should have thanked her for saving him the cost of an ambulance.
Although not in the ambulance at the time, apparently relying on his officer’s account, Raney denied his officer made that statement in his Enterprise editorial.
On the advice of council, Demaline declined to further comment on the police dog attack. His attorney, Kevin Brown, stated on Demaline’s behalf that, “Once a dog is set loose in a situation like this, someone is going to get bit. It’s like a missile that has been released. There is no way to recall it, even if the suspect is surrendering. There should be definite information that force needs to be applied before releasing a dog to search. There needs to be a human element in the decision process.”
When asked about legal consequences related to the police dog attack, Brown told us that in his view the City of Livingston and the Livingston Police Department face a “substantial civil liability” and that he intends to sue on behalf of his client for “excessive use of force for releasing the dog on him.”
According to animal behavior expert Richard Polsky, Ph.D.., who provides expert witness testimony in dog bite lawsuits: “No matter how well-trained in suspect apprehension a police dog might be, all police dogs can easily make behavioral mistakes, such as attacking at the wrong time, attacking the wrong person, attacking a suspect when not commanded to do so, and failing to stop an attack after being commanded to do so by the handler.”
Polsky is the author of User’s Guide to the Scientific Literature on Dog & Cat Behavior, and many articles in legal and veterinary journals. In his opinion, it is the nature of attack-trained police dogs to be inherently dangerous and occasion-ally unpredictable. “Police canines are not automated machines,” he writes, “they are prone to making mistakes for different reasons, and these mistakes can be costly.”
According to police dog authority Terry Fleck, a veteran Canine Handler in South Lake Tahoe, California, an expert in the field of canine legalities, and author of Canine Legal Update and Opinions: “Accidental/unintentional bites are part of doing police canine business. As an analogy, we use patrol vehicles routinely. We are also involved in many at-fault vehicle accidents. Yet, we still use patrol vehicles. Accidental unintentional canine bites are no different. They are the cost of doing canine business. We, as canine handlers, must use these dogs to maximum efficiency. However, we, as handlers, must also develop techniques and proper use of equipment, to keep these dogs under direct control of the handler.”
In the case of the Livingston Police Department’s dog Bobi apprehending a cook near his own kitchen, the dog ran far ahead and out of sight of its handler. The question remains: Why was force initiated by the Livingston Police Department during a routine business sweep following the discovery of an unlocked business door after hours? Was that force justified?
More specifically: Why wasn’t the dog kept under direct control of his handler, instead of having been allowed to attack indiscriminately, ruining far ahead into a building complex that, as likely as not, contained an innocent employee?
David Lewis contributed to this report.