A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that a local police K-9 unit should send fleeing suspects a clear message: Beware of dog. The St. Paul Pioneer Press says the case was filed by an Eagan, Mn., man who contends his civil rights were violated after he was bitten by a Minnetonka police dog while trying to hide from police in a dark, marshy field five years ago. The man said an artery in his leg was punctured and that police should have let him know the dog was trained to bite first, rather than bark.
“We see no reason why in this case a rational jury would be precluded from finding that the officers could have placed themselves out of harm’s way … and given a loud verbal warning that a police dog was present and trained to seize by force,” said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, overuling a trial judge.
Police said officers would be put at risk by letting suspects know when a dog was being used in a search. The bark vs. bite issue is being debated across the country, particularly in cities where police departments use dogs trained to “bite and hold,” rather than “find and bark.”
Accusations of civil-rights violations from suspects bitten by police dogs have forced more than a dozen police departments, including departments in Detroit and Los Angeles, to retrain dogs in their K-9 units. “The problem is that a dog can’t discriminate between someone who is surrendering and someone who is not,” said Kay Nord Hunt, a Minneapolis attorney for Jeffrey Kuha, the man who was bitten. “The problem is in the training. A dog’s bark can be just as effective as its bite.”