An unarmed robbery suspect who tried to fight with, then run away from officers was severely bitten on both legs yesterday after a Prince George's County police canine officer sent her dog after him, officials said.
The 30-year-old suspect was not immediately identified and had not been charged early last evening. He suffered significant blood loss from a bite into an artery in his leg and was in serious but stable condition at Prince George's Hospital Center last night, hospital officials said.
The alleged robber also suffered severe to moderate bites on his lower legs, said Richard S. Kennedy, vice president of the hospital, and emergency room doctors were evaluating whether the man needed surgery.
Prince George's County police refused to identify either the dog handler or the dog.
The incident comes three weeks after Police Chief John S. Farrell and County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) announced plans to reduce the number of dog bite injuries inflicted by the county's police dogs and as the department's 23-member canine corps is under federal scrutiny.
The reforms include increased supervision and review of officers and a dramatic shift in the way police dogs are trained. Since the inception of the unit nearly 40 years ago, county police dogs have been trained to catch suspects by biting them in the arm, officials said, a technique used by most East Coast police agencies.
Curry and Farrell announced last month that the department is shifting to the "bark and hold" approach, in which the canines are trained to keep suspects at bay by barking and only bite if the suspect tries to flee or attack. The dogs are to be retrained beginning later this summer. West Coast agencies that employ the bark and hold approach also limit the use of their police dogs on armed suspects.
County police dogs have bitten hundreds of people in recent years, though police officials have refused to say exactly how many biting incidents the canines have been involved in.
The Washington Post reported in April that at least 13 civil suits alleging excessive force by members of the county's canine unit are pending. The Post also reported that the FBI is investigating whether the unit has engaged in a pattern of brutality.
Authorities said yesterday's incident will be reviewed by a team of police commanders from the special operations division, which oversees the canine unit, within 72 hours, in accordance with reforms announced by Farrell and Curry.
That review will include interviews with the canine officer, other officers and supervisors at the scene, and civilian witnesses, according to Farrell's mandate. In addition to Prince George's officers, Montgomery County police and Maryland State Police participated in the pursuit and capture of the suspect.
Prince George's police said the man who was bitten is a suspect in as many as 10 robberies in Montgomery since Saturday. Officials said he is also a suspect in as many as three robberies in Prince George's.
The man recently was arrested on robbery charges in Florida and was returned to Montgomery because the Florida arrest violated his parole in Montgomery, law enforcement sources said. The man was released June 2, sources said.
Police said that yesterday's incident began about 11:30 a.m. when the suspect grabbed a clerk at the Montgomery Ward store in the Capital Plaza in Landover Hills and tried to rob her or the cash register.
The clerk grappled her way free, and police were called and set up a cordon around the plaza, said Prince George's police spokesman Lt. Andy Ellis.
Police did not catch the suspect, who was seen about 30 minutes later, at a Greenbelt gas station, Ellis said. There, police said, the suspect leaned over the counter, grabbed cash from an opened cash register, ran to the stolen red Dodge truck he was driving and sped away.
Maryland state police chased the suspect but lost him, officials said. By then, state police and officers from Prince George's and Montgomery also were looking for him. Officers in marked cruisers spotted the suspect driving west on New Hampshire Avenue and trailed him, Ellis said.
He said state police, Prince George's and Montgomery officers set up a roadblock at New Hampshire Avenue and Oakview Road, just inside Montgomery.
When the suspect reached the roadblock, according to Ellis, he stopped the truck, and police ordered him to surrender. But the suspect fought with officers, slugging and kicking them, before trying to run away, Ellis said.
At that point, the canine officer, who had heard of the chase on her police radio and responded to assist, released the canine, officials said.