Police K-9 Attacks also Show Dogs Ignoring "Out" Commands
Richard Bailey Jr. was attacked in the neck by a Lafayette police K-9 on May 9.
Lafayette, IN - In 2014, our nonprofit began collecting police K-9 attacks of innocent bystanders, non-threatening suspects and low-level offenders. We began doing so after reviewing lawsuits filed in the Pacific Northwest and how the "bite and hold" method of training was being tested in the courts. Later that year, Canadian-based Pivot Legal Society released a study that concluded police K-9s were the leading cause of injury by RCMP and municipal forces in British Columbia.
Collecting the volume of K-9 attacks on undeserving people, including attacks on their own handlers, quickly overwhelmed us. No state or federal agency is in charge of tracking police K-9 bite data either. As we collected more cases, it became difficult to ignore the many videos of police being unable to call their K-9s off people -- in one case the officer screamed "Off" 18 times to no avail -- as well as the dogs being used as a proxy for excessive force (see unblurred version).1
"If you can't control your dog, you're a liability. You are no longer an asset to your agency. You are a liability magnet. You are going to get sued. You're going to hurt people and your agency is going to write checks." - K-9 expert, Dr. Charlie Meloh
As we delve into this post, which contains violent and disturbing imagery, it is important to know three things. One, the use of police and military dogs -- the attack dog industry -- exploded after 9-11, which impacted the breeding and training of these dogs. Two, when it comes to police "brutality" in K-9 attacks, it is often a "mentality." Lastly, the "partnership relationship" between an officer and K-9 are rarely seen in videos today. This NPR video provides instructive background.
The best example we could find of an ideal "partnership relationship" between an officer and K-9 occurred in February. Montgomery County Officer D. Richardson and his partner, Axel, responded to a bank robbery. The dynamic partnership and Richardson's control over his K-9 is stunning. After Axel jumped through a broken window (while leashed), Axel waited for Richardson to follow. The two proceeded into a potentially highly confrontational scenario, where no bite event occurs.
The primary goals of a police K-9 are to decrease escalation (as the case of K-9 Axel shows), to assist officers in apprehension and to immobilize suspects who resist arrest by biting and holding one of the suspect's extremities. Remain mindful of these goals while examining the principal video in this post -- the Lafayette, Indiana police K-9 attack of Richard Bailey that was released in July -- along with the other videos that we link to, where these goals have been forgotten.
Workings Dogs & Fatalities
In 2014, a titled protection trained rottweiler (level 2 IPO) attacked a 7-year old boy in the head and neck, killing him. The dog belonged to the child's stepfather, who was the director of Vohne Liche Kennels Executive and Family Protection. Indiana-based Vohne Liche Kennels is a top provider of "social police dogs" to K-9 units across the country.2 Alexandra Semyonova wrote a special report for our post explaining bite work (Schutzhund), the basis of police K-9 training.
In 2015, Semyonova offered more insights into the attack dog industry, including the dark side of commercial sellers of "pre-trained" law enforcement dogs, of which Vohne Liche is one, who she believes are not producing reliable dogs. They participate in a "testosterone-driven culture and a hunt for cash markets," she said. Recently, Vohne Liche was forced to pay $1.35 million to the U.S. Department of Defense for fraudulently submitting claims for labor hours for trainers.3
“We will not tolerate dishonest contractors who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of federal taxpayers.” - United States Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II.
In 2016, another dog trained in apprehension and bite work, a retired police K-9, attacked two people, killing one in San Luis Obispo County, California. We also dedicated substantial time to that case, documenting the preliminary hearing and final trial, where former officer Alex Geiger was acquitted. "Due to this verdict, a 'retired' police K-9 can now breakout of its property and savagely attack and kill an innocent person without criminal culpability," we wrote after the trial.
Tracking Police K-9 Disasters
We continued tracking individual cases and regional investigations into police K-9 units often rifled with poor training, unstable dogs and excessive force.4 In North Port, Florida, "cowboy" handlers were commanding their dogs to attack unarmed citizens without sufficient evidence to charge a crime. In St. Paul, Minnesota, three high-profile police K-9 attacks were captured on video (2016, 2017 and 2018), including two innocent bystanders and two K-9s ignoring "Out" commands.
North Port paid out $1.4 million in claims and St. Paul $2.6 million. "A Star Tribune review of six years worth of St. Paul police dog bite reports showed that officers lost control of their K-9s on occasion, dogs regularly apprehended people with no instruction from handlers and that some bystanders were attacked while officers were following common practices." Prior to these settlements, North Port and St. Paul bragged about having "awarding winning" police K-9 units.
In 2018, Joseph Pettaway was killed by a police K-9 after the bites ruptured his femoral artery. Deaths are a rare event in K-9 maulings because police are present to call the dog off, stop bleeding, and call for an ambulance. Deaths are also rare because the dogs are trained to attack the arms and legs -- not the head and neck. In another rare fatality, in 2013, Hayward police shelled out $1.5 million for not warning the victim they had deployed the dog in his backyard.
Police K-9 Facial Attacks Rise
In 2019, we started seeing more facial attacks by police K-9s. In the case of Carlos Balli, he was unarmed, but not a low-level offender. The dog attacked his face for 32 seconds and destroyed it (see body cam video).5 The goal of a K-9's training is to render the subject immobile by targeting the arms and legs. Those can be significant injuries too, but are vastly different than a police K-9 targeting the head and neck region, an act of potentially killing, not an attempt to immobilize.
Then the case of Spencer Erickson, 26, in Lakewood, Colorado emerged. That lawsuit alleges police K-9 Finn bit his neck repeatedly leaving him with deep and potentially fatal cuts near his jugular vein.6 Erickson was not a perfect victim, but he was a low-level offender -- he had crawled into an attic and was consuming alcohol and smoking pot. Erickson also had outstanding warrants for a DUI and mischief cases. The K-9 attack resulted in these bites, which could have been fatal.
Two years earlier, K-9 Finn had attacked an officer during a training exercise, biting him on the face and neck. The dog remained on active duty afterward. If you start to follow these cases, you will find these K-9s are rarely taken off the force even when a previous bite has resulted in a lawsuit.
Evaluating Lafayette Video
Before we show you the 16-minute video released by the Lafayette Police Department in July that shows another insidious "neck attack" by a police K-9 to an unarmed suspect, watch how this K-9 immobilized this man. Watch where the dog is biting him. There is debate in the Prescott Valley case that officers did not follow protocol, but there is no debate about the dog's performance -- it did exactly as it was trained to. The dog appears to perform a clean "Out" too (see full video).
In the Prescott Valley video, police at the scene assess the man's bite injuries. The suspect has an upper left arm bite (3:52), where the dog immobilized him, and bites to his hip through his jeans. That dog's training performed an excellent outcome. What you will see in the Lafayette video is profoundly different and disturbing. We encourage you to watch the full 16-minutes to understand the whole context. Also know that the dog involved, K-9 Boyka, was a Vohne Liche Kennels dog.
The confrontation starts at 6:28. officer Saxton enters at 7:58. K-9 Boyka was released in a "door pop" at 8:24. "Here, here, here!" is heard, alerting the dog to its target. The attack begins at 8:28.
In the video, K-9 Boyka attacks Bailey's neck area for 30 seconds (see left side of screen), while an officer handcuffed him. Bailey's arms and a leg are exposed, but the dog targets his neck. Bailey's doctor described his wounds as a punctured trachea, cut carotid artery, damaged tissue in his neck, injuries to his shoulder and a broken finger. Bailey's injuries resulted in him being in a medically induced coma for six days and hospitalized for 11 days, according to his attorneys.
At 8:52, Saxton snaps a leash onto the dog. Officers say to Bailey, "Stop fighting the dog, stop moving," while the dog is still latched onto his neck. At 9:00, the K-9 breaks off, and at 9:04, the dog redirects onto Saxton. As Saxton leads the dog back to his cruiser, he continues to say, "Stop, stop" to the dog. By 9:38 the dog is inside the cruiser. By 9:49, officers are saying "We need medics now!" Though initially conscious, Bailey will later be placed into a medically induced coma.
On June 11, before the release of this video on July 25, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor requested a special prosecutor to investigate three Lafayette officers -- K-9 handler, Sgt. Josh Saxton, Officers Nicholas Klimek and Victor Sikorski for possible crimes. Indiana State Police confirmed they were investigating the officers for possible excessive force in the arrest of Richard Bailey Jr., during which Saxton's police K-9 mauled Bailey's neck, causing life-threatening injuries.
On June 30, and while he was under investigation, Officer Joshua Saxton was promoted to Sergeant and K-9 Boyka was retired under the auspices that a "supervisor" cannot also be a K-9 handler. Saxton was given sole ownership of this dog -- removing any future liability to the city.
On August 15, the members of the board of the Greater Lafayette ACLU penned an editorial and stated in part: "The body cam video shows that the officers permitted the dog to maul Mr. Bailey in the neck. It is not usual police or K-9 training to point a dog at anything but the extremities." They added that a "murder" while in police custody -- referring to George Floyd -- "very nearly did" happen here. As of September 18, the investigation by the special prosecutor remains pending.
In July, Lafayette Police Chief Patrick Flannelly denied a request from the Journal & Courier to inspect the bite records for Boyka during its nearly six years of service with the department. That is a very strong indicator this K-9 has a history of inappropriate bites, as we would expect a "neck biter" to have. Police will eventually be forced to hand over these records to Bailey's attorneys.
Working Dog Trainer Feed Back
We sent the video to a working dog trainer, who provided insight into Eastern Bloc K-9s. "Non NATO/UN countries sell these dogs the cheapest," she said. "There are no human rights in these countries, which could influence the training style to skew towards a high level of aggression/lethal bite targeting of head and neck." She also believes that a belligerent drunk on a moped "does not authorize a straight up door pop," when the dog flies out of the vehicle without a handler.
"CRAZY DOMINANT POSSESSIVE Eastern Bloc dog with no respect of his handler ... dog redirected on the cop. And that dog had access to arms and legs and targeted the neck. They crank the dogs way too high in training while not practicing any control whatsoever ... and this is how it all goes sideways.
That dog could have just as easily targeted the other officer. It is NOT OK to loose a dog like that unless it is truly life and death. A belligerent drunk man on a moped does not authorize a straight up door pop because you cannot influence the dog at all in such a scenario, dog just comes out teeth first and brains last. This dog clearly had very bad training, and I’d be willing to bet it’s like we discussed, cops get the dog and do "too hot" scenario training all the time, no control, choke off, no outs, no frustration tolerance, which is why the dog ate up the cop on the choke off. Macho boys playing with macho toys without having any idea what they are awakening.
I am seeing a connection between Schutzhund going down the tubes (internationally) and all these psycho, out of control malinois in police forces. Vohne Liche Kennels does not account for thin nerves, or dogs with extreme levels of dominance, or those “relationship” dogs that are held in balance by play and genuine affection in addition to respecting the strong dog ... knowing what hill you wish to die on, and what you don’t. These assholes will buy point and shoot dogs from people that don’t speak a word of English.
So that’s one fatality and one very close call from Vohne Liche Kennels. That we know of anyway! What are the odds? The last police dog importer that racked up that many serious mismatches (California K-9 Academy) went out of business after multiple lawsuits. I’m pretty sure Howie, the owner, did a LOT of scenario training as well. He did these big flashy demos before selling crap dogs to Brittney Spears for $50,000 a piece. Or a police dog for $20,000.
Vohne Liche is doing a huge business with some pretty huge disasters without any reflection on their overall reputation. How do they do it?"
In comments, we would like your feedback on the Lafayette Police Department K-9 neck attack involving Sgt. Josh Saxton, police K-9 Boyka and Richard Bailey Jr. The confrontation starts at 6:28. The attack begins at 8:28 and lasts until 9:00. Was this dog properly deployed on Bailey? Was this excessive force? Should the officer have been promoted two months after the attack?
Our nonprofit began investigating the issue of police K-9 attacks on undeserving people six years ago. These dogs are increasingly being used as a proxy for violence and being deployed on unarmed and low-level offenders, subjecting them to life-long debilitating injuries. The head and neck attacks are increasing as well, subjecting these suspects to potential death. That is not supposed to be the intent of police K-9s; the intent is to immobilize "dangerous" offenders.
The attacks in this report portray white, Black and Latino suspects -- some were never classified as a "defendant" since they were never charged with a crime after the mauling. The Lafayette police K-9 "neck attack" fell squarely within worldwide protests due to the disproportionate police violence inflicted on Black men. Even the ACLU emphasized in this case, referring to police, "Such conduct does not contribute to social peace; in fact, it only allows distrust of police to fester."
Failure to employ correct K-9 techniques and a lack of training in de-escalation techniques is already placing entire K-9 departments at risk.
As we were writing this post, a Salt Lake City K-9 officer was charged with second-degree felony aggravated assault after he deployed his K-9 on a Black man who was on his knees with his hands in the air. Watching the body cam video should make you weep. This dog is being used as a proxy for violence. The whole K-9 unit was suspended afterward.7 This is the extreme polar opposite of how Officer Richardson and his partner Axel responded to a dangerous bank robbery.
If excessive force cases involving police K-9s continue to escalate, taxpayers will grow angrier at funding the resulting lawsuits. With some of these dogs now targeting the head and neck regions, these lawsuits are one step away from wrongful death lawsuits as well. The training techniques and instability of some of these police K-9s, along with "baseless deployment" decisions and excessive force -- described as "barbaric" and "animalistic" by attorneys -- must be reined in.
2In 2013, Alpha Dogs aired on Nat Geo Wild, featuring the owner and staff of Vohne Liche Kennels (VLK). The series only ran for one year. In May 2019 (and possibly while VLKs was negotiating with the DOJ after fraudulently over-billing them), VLK urged its supporters to write to National Geographic asking for another season.
3After the August 14 announcement by the Department of Justice, Performance Kennels Inc., who imports dogs from Solvakia, called out Vohne Liche. "If Vohne Liche is bold enough to try to screw the DOD do you think they would hesitate to screw a law enforcement agency?" It is "high time companies like this were called out by others in the industry. Shame on them." One person who commented on a similar post, stated, "The dogs from VLK are shit."
4The man on the bicycle, Richard Schumacher, suffered a "degloving of the right axilla" injury due to the K-9 mauling in Punta Gorda, Florida (See full body cam video). Schumacher later sued the city and obtained $70,000. Punta Gorda then retired the attacker, K-9 Spirit, to its handler, officer Lee Coel, who had improperly used the dog in the first place. Fortunately, the city replaced K-9 Spirit with two Labrador retrievers for the purposes of drug detection and tracking. Officer Coel later mistakenly shot and killed a woman during a community safety workshop -- his gun was not supposed to be loaded. Coel was fired afterward and later pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter after killing retired librarian Mary Knowlton during the "Shoot Don’t Shoot" demonstration.
5Carlos Balli, 29, was driving a stolen car when he was spotted by an Arizona DPS officer. During the police pursuit, Balli got out of the vehicle and fled on foot through a residential neighborhood then hid behind bushes. His hands were in the air just before DPS Detective Brad Martin released, K-9 Storm on Balli. The dog attacked Balli in the face and arm for 32 seconds. Balli is screaming as the officer tells him to "get on his face" after the K-9 had ripped half of it off. An ambulance does not arrive until 13 minutes later. Two years earlier, K-9 Storm chewed off a portion of an unarmed man's leg, but was not retired afterward. Balli is suing the state for $2 million dollars.
6Erickson v. City of Lakewood, Colorado et al., (District of Colorado, 1:2019cv02613). "While the Individual Defendants [police] downplayed the severity of Mr. Erickson’s injuries in their reports and covered his lacerations and bite wounds in photographs taken on scene, photographs taken at the hospital illustrate the severity, lethality, and shocking unreasonableness of the police conduct that created Mr. Erickson’s injuries … If these wounds had been mere millimeters deeper, Mr. Erickson would be dead," states the complaint.
7The recent felony charge against Salt Lake K-9 Officer Nickolas Pearce marks the first time we have seen this after an active duty police K-9 mauling. Prosecutors said Jeffrey Ryans "wasn't resisting arrest" at the time. "He certainly wasn't posing an imminent threat of violence or harm to anyone and he certainly wasn't concealed." If massive civil lawsuits don't force some of these K-9 departments to change, maybe criminal charges will.