(CN) - Police officers may be liable on claims that they let a police dog attack an unresisting suspecting for five to seven minutes, a federal judge ruled.
In December 2008, Colin Edwards ran a stop sign while driving his wife's car with a suspended license. When Orlando Police Officer Justin Lovett pulled him over, he got out of his car and ran.
As Edwards jumped a fence into a wooded area, Lovett chased Edwards on foot and called for backup.
Officer Brayn Shanley and his K-9 partner, Rosco, responded to the call. The officers announced that they would release the dog if Edwards did not surrender.
Edwards had made it less than half a mile into a thick brush by the time he gave up and laid down on his stomach with his hands visible.
As the officers approached Edwards, they asked him to show his hands, but since his hands were already exposed, he did not move. Edwards told the officers that he was surrendering, and he only ran because of his license.
He claims then Rosco then began to bite his leg. Despite shouting that he was not resisting, and pleading with the officers to call off Rosco, the officers allegedly let the dog bite him for five to seven minutes. Finally one of the officers kneeled on Edwards' back, handcuffed him and called off the dog, according to the complaint.
Edwards says the officers joked about Edwards' leg looking like filet mignon and said that is why police dogs are not fed.
At a six-day hospital stay, Edwards needed surgery to treat the loss of a large portion of flesh and severe damage to muscles and tendons. He claims he also underwent extensive follow-up care.
After pleading no-contest to charges of fleeing law enforcement, Edwards sued the officers for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
A federal judge granted the officers summary judgment on qualified immunity, but the 11th Circuit reversed.
"Here, the force necessarily caused by using a dog to track a fleeing suspect is reasonably tailored to the risk that a fleeing suspect presents," Judge Beverly Martin wrote for a three-judge panel. "We defer to Officer Shanley's judgment that it was appropriate to employ extraordinary but non-deadly force in this instance. That Officer Shanley reasonably decided to use the dog in the first instance does not mean, however, that the use of the dog was reasonable for the duration of the attack."
"Indeed, evaluating Officer Shanley's conduct at the time of the prolonged attack makes its unreasonableness plain," she added. "Because Edwards was begging to surrender, and because Officer Shanley could safely give effect to that surrender, the further infliction of pain was gratuitous and sadistic. This the Constitution does not tolerate."
Shanley's fellow officer, Lovett, did not fare better.
"There is no dispute that Officer Lovett was present for the entire attack, and taking Edwards's account as true, he made no effort to intervene and stop the ongoing constitutional violation," Martin wrote. "As such, Officer Lovett is no more entitled to qualified immunity than Officer Shanley."
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