As he climbed to the plateau where a half dozen San Diego police officers and their K-9 were waiting, officers repeatedly yelled for the man to turn around.
“No!” he screamed, defiant, balling up his fists and inching toward officers.
So the officer handling the dog told his police colleagues to stand back, then gave his dog a command.
The dog lunged forward and his teeth ripped into the man’s leg. The man fell, screaming as the biting dog growled. The man writhed and kicked to free himself, but the dog was latched onto his leg, shredding it.
“Put your hands behind your back and the dog will stop biting you,” one officer said.
The man didn’t, and the dog continued, shaking its head back and forth as ribbons of bloody flesh opened up on the man’s calf.
Forty-four seconds passed before the handler told the dog to release the man.
It panted as it backed away, its mouth bloody.
The incident occurred at about 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday in August 2015, in a canyon in the San Diego suburb of University City. The body-cam footage was broadcast this week by KNBC.
The full video, the news station warned, “is extremely graphic and disturbing. It includes footage of a police dog biting a subject’s leg until blood and other injuries are visible. . . . Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
The man in the video is a 25-year-old businessman who said he ended up in the canyon after a hard night of partying.
His face is blurred in the video and his name is redacted in a police narrative about the incident — but he told KNBC that he won’t be able to fully use his right leg ever again.
He settled with the city for $385,000 and was never charged with a crime, according to the station. But, he said: “No dollar amount is worth having a disability for life.”
The San Diego Police Department said the use of force was justified.
“This video shows the agitated and defiant demeanor of a man under the influence of LSD,” Lt. Scott Wahl, a department spokesman, said in a statement.
“When played in its entirety, the video shows our officers trying to gain his compliance before he became defiant. While the split second decisions of police officers are easy to second guess when you know the outcome, keep in mind the deployment of our K9 is intended to prevent the situation from escalating.”
The department’s K-9 policy allows officers to order a dog to attack to protect officers or apprehend “assaultive, violent or dangerous” people, or criminals trying to hide or flee. It says officers who handle dogs should warn suspects that the dog is going to be released, unless the handler has “specific and articulable facts” that the announcement will endanger other officers or the public.
In a narrative written by police officials after the August 2015 attack, the officer handling the dog said he believed the man was under the influence of drugs, which would give him “a high tolerance to pain.”
“I believed he was going to punch or assault an officer,” the dog handler wrote.
Making the situation especially precarious, according to the handler: Officers were just a few feet from the edge of the canyon. The man “could have easily pulled or pushed an officer to the bottom of the canyon, causing death or serious bodily injury. Had [he] been tazed, he could have fallen backward into the canyon where large rocks and boulders were scattered throughout.”
The incident comes to light as law-enforcement officers across the nation remain embroiled in a debate about whether they are too quick to use force, especially against minorities. (The man in the video appears to be Caucasian.) Police have killed 912 people so far this year, according to a Washington Post examination of fatal use of force by police.
Donald W. Cook, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney who specializes in cases involving bites by police dogs, called the incident “barbaric” and told The Post that the dog never should have been ordered to attack.
“It’s not Lassie or Rin Tin Tin come to the aid of the police officers,” Cook saidt. “The dog cannot handcuff. The dog cannot restrain. . . . All the dog can do is attack and bite and mutilate.”
Instead of releasing the dog, Cook said, the officers should have used their training to subdue the man, who was unarmed and outnumbered.
Cook, who is not representing the man in the San Diego video, took exception to the K-9 officer’s claim that using the dog made the situation safer for officers. They ended up grappling with the man on the ground anyway and had to contend with his thrashing to escape a biting dog, he said.
“The purpose of using force is to control,” Cook said. “You’re using it to control, to stop a threat of some type, to get the person taken into custody. Using a dog to subdue a guy is the antithesis of control. You see that in the video. The guy goes crazy. Now he’s reacting to the dog.
“If the police objective is to mutilate the guy and have him scream, then using the dog makes sense.”