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Ninth Circuit Rules in Police Dog Bite Case

Ninth Circuit Rules in Police Dog Bite Case

In the past, I’ve discussed the unique area of law involving police dogs.

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case brought against the City of San Diego which challenged the city’s use of police dogs to apprehend criminal suspects.

The case of Lowry v. City of San Diego stretches back to 2010.  Sara Lowry was sleeping on a couch in her office in San Diego.  She got up to use the restroom and accidentally triggered the building’s silent burglar alarm.

Officers from the San Diego Police Department arrived on scene with a police dog named Bak.  The officers announced that they would unleash Bak and got no response from Ms. Lowry, who was still asleep.  After the officers unleashed Bak, the dog pounced on Ms. Lowry and bit her on the face.  When the officer in charge realized Ms. Lowry was not a burglar, he commanded Bak to release her grip.  Ms. Lowry suffered a torn lip that required three stitches.

Ms. Lowry sued the San Diego Police Department, alleging that the Department’s dog policy of “bite and hold” was an unconstitutional use of force.

Ms. Lowry argued that the policy employed by the City’s police dogs–who are trained to always bite first until officers can ascertain the facts on the ground–is an unconstitutional violation of the 4th Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable seizures.

The Ninth Circuit’s full panel disagreed.

The 10-1 decision affirmed that San Diego’s policy of allowing its dogs to “bite and hold” is a critical tool to ensure officer safety.  The Court ruled that even though in this particular case, officers encountered a false alarm, a reasonable jury would not find that the officers’ policy of unleashing Bak was an unreasonable use of force.

The case garnered much attention.  Interesting to note, the Los Angeles Police Department does not employ “bite and hold”.  Instead, it uses a policy of “find and bark”, where the dog will find a suspect, hold its position, and notify the officers of the suspect’s location by barking.  This policy was enacted to minimize litigation.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, in contrast, uses “bite and hold.”  Different departments use different policies when it comes to police dogs.

For questions about your Los Angeles dog bite or police dog bite case, the Rabbi Lawyer is ready to assist, 24/6!