Is a police K-9 just a dog, or is it an officer? What about a part of a police officer? These are some of the existential questions that could be facing a police K-9 in a North Carolina city this year.
What started out as a routine stop quickly changed as the person being pulled over fled on foot. As he was running, the police K9 was ordered to give chase- nothing unusual there. Once the K9 caught up with the fleeing suspect, the man stopped running, and grabbed hold of the dog’s snout to prevent the dog from biting him. When the human officer caught up, the suspect was told to let go of the dog. He didn’t, and allegedly the officer hit him in the face. The suspect was told again to let go of the dog. He didn’t, and allegedly the officer struck him in the throat. The third time the suspect was told to let go of the dog, and the third time he ignored the instruction, he was tazed until he let go. At no point was the dog called off.
At some point, the K9 received a blow to the abdomen and suffered a ruptured spleen. There is no evidence that has yet come out telling who struck the dog, or whether the suspect touched the dog anywhere but the snout.
The suspect is now a defendant. He has been charged with Assault on a Law Enforcement Animal, and it seems that there will be some interesting issues raised. Can he argue self defense, because the law enforcement animal was attacking him? Since the K9 is sometimes considered an extension of the human police officer, does that mean the defendant loses the grounds for self defense? If the human officer didn’t call the K9 off, even though the defendant was subdued enough for the officer to allegedly strike him twice and taze him, could there be an issue of police brutality?
This is about more than just the hurt K9. This issue goes to the heart of the distrust between some suspects and officers. A suspect fleeing on foot is chased by a dog. The suspect takes a very minimal action to keep himself from being bitten by the dog, and his reward is being brutalized- allegedly- by an officer while still facing the threat of the dog trying to bite him. After all of this, the suspect is charged with assaulting the K9. The K9 is supposed to be a help to the police, but it seems that some officers may be using their K9 as bait to charge a suspect who is trying to protect himself and who may not have much else he can be charged with.
The facts will come out- mostly- as the case progresses. Unfortunately, the one witness who really knows what happened can’t do more than bark.