The county’s elected prosecutor promised a “thorough review” of what happened. The editorial board for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the man posed “no apparent threat” to officers. Noting the three officers are White and the suspect Black, the newspaper compared the dog attack to what the “infamous public safety chief, Bull Connor, did in the 1960s to deter Blacks from marching for equal rights” in Birmingham, Ala.
“This incident bears all the hallmarks of cops deciding to issue their personal form of street justice,” the board wrote Tuesday.
The 18-officer police department in Woodson Terrace, a city of about 4,000 just south of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, released a statement defending the officers’ actions. The three of them went to a business around 7:15 a.m. Monday to check out a call about someone trespassing and refusing to leave.
The caller was “fearful” the man was going to stay in the building, the Woodson Terrace Police Department said in the statement.
When officers met the man, police said, he immediately threatened to kill them and identified himself as a “sovereign citizen,” a label used by a group of loosely affiliated people who do not recognize the government’s power to tax or prosecute them. He yelled obscenities, refused to follow orders and said he would “not obey your contract,” according to the statement.
He then walked into rush-hour traffic, forcing officers to block vehicles to keep them from hitting the man, the statement said. It said the officers believed the man was under the influence of drugs and told him to put his hands behind his back. Police said that he refused and that when they tried to force him to do so, he resisted. The officers, the statement added, then warned him several times that if he did not obey, they would deploy the police dog.
He kept resisting, according to the department, causing “minor injuries” to one of the officers, so the officers released the dog.
The video shows it latched onto the man’s foot and bit him repeatedly for about 30 seconds as he screamed for help. As the dog yanked at the man’s leg, two of the officers took him to the ground and tried to force his arms behind his back. The dog continued to tug at the man’s right leg. He kept screaming.
The dog’s handler eventually pulled the animal off the man, but just a few seconds later he let it loose again as the man got up and took a step in what appears to be an attempt to run away. It is not clear whether he was attempting to evade the officers or get away from the dog.
The dog again lunged at the man, dragged him to the ground and biting his leg repeatedly for another 30 seconds until the officer stopped the animal. Officers then handcuffed the man, who, appearing injured, hobbled to a police car.
After officers arrested him, they found methamphetamine on the man, according to the department’s statement, “which would explain why the officers were unable to restrain the subject.”
Paramedics came, but the man refused treatment, so officers took him to the police department. After he started complaining about his injuries, paramedics were again called and the man was taken to the hospital.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said in a statement that his office “is aware of this video, and we will make a thorough review of the incident,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday. He declined to comment to the AP further about the case, and his office did not respond to a message from The Washington Post late Wednesday.
Woodson Terrace police and the city’s mayor, Lawrence “Butch” Besmer, did not immediately respond to messages from The Post asking whether an internal-affairs investigation had been opened.
The Woodson Terrace police chief told KTVI he wished the officers had been wearing body cameras to give people a more complete picture of what happened. The department got approval to buy them earlier this year, but they have not arrived.
Michael Gould, a police dog expert, told KSDK that the video was “disturbing” and called the officers’ use of force “problematic.” He acknowledged he did not know exactly what the officers were experiencing but said the footage appears to show they had the man under control.
Gould, who has more than 35 years of experience with police and service dogs, said the animals are instruments that have to be “deployed very carefully.” Officers should consider other ways to de-escalate a situation, he added.
“I would look into it very carefully, why other levels of force would not have been utilized,” Gould told the station. “Based on what I … saw it looked like the subject was under control.”
There are no national standards for training police dogs, yet they send thousands of Americans to hospital emergency rooms each year, according to “Mauled: When police dogs are weapons,” a year-long investigation by the Marshall Project, AL.com, IndyStar and the Invisible Institute.
While many departments across the country claim to use dogs only to capture suspects accused of committing violent crimes or to intervene when officers are in danger, the “Mauled” investigation found they were often used in minor cases, such as traffic violations, mental health checks and situations in which suspects were trespassing or running from police.
And when the dogs bit, they often caused serious injury and occasionally caused death.
“Dogs used in arrests are bred and trained to have a bite strong enough to punch through sheet metal,” according to the investigation. “Their bites can be more like shark attacks, according to experts and medical researchers. When they are used on people, they can leave harrowing scars, torn muscles and dangerous infections.”
Gould, the police dog expert, said the power of police dogs is why officers can’t expect someone to obey their orders when they’re being bitten and jerked around.
“It’s a human reflex response — you can’t have an 80-pound dog puncturing your skin and be compliant,” he said. “It’s virtually impossible.”
The Post-Dispatch’s editorial board was more blunt.
“There was nothing so urgent in the Woodson Terrace arrest that prevented officers from trying alternative techniques so cooler heads could prevail,” the editorial states. “The sole message seemed to be: If you as a Black person show the slightest resistance, here’s what we can do to you.
“Bull Connor would sure be proud to see that his legacy lives on.”