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Indiana Cop Must Face Claims for K-9 Bite

CHICAGO (CN) — An assault suspect whose calf was completely torn out by a police dog, despite his cooperation with officers, may sue a cop for not calling off the dog, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

In 2011, four Evansville, Ind., police officers went to Brinda Becker's home to arrest her son Jamie for allegedly holding a knife to his brother-in-law's neck and threatening to kill him.

At the front door, officers met Brinda Becker, who told the officers her son was home, and called upstairs to Jamie that the officers were there to arrest him.

The younger Becker claimed that he was sleeping when the police arrived, and upon hearing his mother's call, replied that he was getting dressed and would be down soon.

Officer Zachary Elfreich, however, only waited 30 seconds before releasing his German Shepherd, Axel, into the home, directing the dog to "find him," according to court records.

This command instructs the dog to bite and hold the first person he finds, even if the person has surrendered, and hold them until commanded to let go.

The officer claims that he gave a loud, clear warning — "Police department K-9, come out now or I will release my dog and you will get bit" — but both Beckers testified that Elfreich did not give a warning.

Axel met Becker while he was coming down the stairs with his hands on his head, and bit his left ankle.

Becker allegedly shouted, "Call the dog off. I'm coming towards you," but Elfreich did not command Axel to release Becker.

Instead, the officer ordered Becker to get on the floor, a command Becker says he could not hear because his girlfriend, following behind him, was screaming, court records show.

Elfreich allegedly pulled Becker down three steps to the ground, causing the dog to lose its grip before biting Becker harder while violently shaking its head.

Axel continued to bite Becker while the officer pushed him to the ground, put a knee in his back and handcuffed him.

At the hospital, a member of the medical staff reportedly told Becker he had the worst dog bite they had seen in 23 years.

He says his calf was completely torn out, and required surgery. Becker allegedly suffered permanent muscle and nerve damage.

A federal judge found that Elfreich may have used excessive force to arrest a non-resistant suspect, and denied him qualified immunity.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed Thursday.

"When Evansville police attempted to arrest Jamie Becker, Officer Elfreich released his police dog under the belief that Becker was hiding in the house. However, two seconds later, Officer Elfreich discovered Becker had been descending the stairs to surrender with his hands above his head. Nonetheless, Officer Elfreich continued to allow the police dog to bite Becker, while pulling him down three steps and placing his knee on his back and handcuffing him," Judge Daniel Manion said, writing for a three-judge panel.

Becker undisputedly suffered serious injuries as a result of Elfreich's conduct, the Chicago-based appeals court ruled.

"While it is unclear from the record whether Axel presented a substantial risk of serious risk bodily harm (and thus deadly force), the force was clearly at the more severe end of the force spectrum," Manion wrote. "A jury could reasonably find such force was excessive. Further, because it was clearly established at the time of Becker's arrest that no more than minimal force was permissible to arrest a non-resisting, or passively resisting, suspect, Officer Elfreich was not entitled to qualified immunity on this record."

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