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People confronted in investigations and not resisting officers may sue City for bites by untrained dog

Samuel Campbell and Chelsie Gemperline were bit, on separate occasions, by the dog used in the City of Springfield, Ohio's "Canine Unit."  The dog was not subjected to weekly maintenance training as recommended, and even went weeks at a time without refresher training.  The dog's handler claimed that his supervisors refused him scheduling time to train the dog.  He also "misinterpreted" the certification rules and failed to timely re-certify the dog.

Campbell was confronted as a "suspected domestic incident" after he pounded on the front door of a drinking companion's duplex, attempting to return her car keys.  The dog bit Campbell before the supervising officer knew that Campbell was present.  Gemperline was bit when the dog and his handler responded to reports of an under-age drinking party.  She was arrested and handcuffed by officers due to her intoxication.  She managed to escape from the police cruiser and run to a neighbor's plastic playhouse, where she hid.  The dog, on a 20' leash, thrust itself into the playhouse and bit Gemperline on the chin and thigh.

Evaluating the facts, the Court held that the officers sued could not avail themselves of governmental immunity.  The use of the dog in the manner and under the circumstances was unreasonable and irresponsible, given the inadequate training the dog received.  Therefore, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the injury victims (because the officers sought summary disposition without a trial), it must be left to a jury to decide whether excessive force was used in arresting or seizing them.  The officers' immunity claims were defeated by the fact that their use of the dog violated a clearly established right:  police authorities may not use excessive force to seize persons confronted for minor crimes who are not resisting arrest.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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