Pr. George's Police Beset By Own Dogs

By David S. Fallis and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 30, 2001

As a police officer chased a fleeing suspect in Brandywine 16 months ago, a large dog bolted out of the early morning darkness and tore into his legs, clamping down with such ferocity that he suffered permanently disabling injuries.

The officer and the animal had something in common: Both worked for the Prince George's County Police Department. The mistaken attack by the out-of-control police dog sent Cpl. Stephen Piazza to the hospital with lacerations and puncture wounds, according to records filed in a disability claim.

Since 1990, police dogs trained to apprehend suspects in Prince George's have instead attacked and mauled police officers, canine handlers and other law enforcement agents at least 43 times, according to public records and other documents.

In one case, an FBI agent was forced to shoot a police dog that attacked him during a standoff with a gunman. One corporal suffered bite wounds to the arm and stomach -- and then was bitten on the face two months later. A German shepherd named King attacked its police handler three times and sent as many as 40 other people to the hospital during its career.

Experts said it is rare for well-trained police dogs to attack the wrong people. Several police departments with canine squads similar in size to the Prince George's unit reported few -- if any -- cases of dogs biting officers.

Savannah, Ga., Police Chief Dan Flynn, former supervisor of the canine unit with the Miami-Dade Police Department, could recall only a handful of attacks by the dogs on police.

"That would be enormously high," Flynn said of the number of bites in Prince George's. "We never got up to those kind of numbers."

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