Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Thompson v. County of Los Angeles (Cal. App. Ct. - Aug. 22, 2006)

The County of Los Angeles wins this case at trial, and Justice Doi Todd affirms the judgment. I don't see anything wrong with that.

The facts of the case are nonetheless a tiny bit disturbing. Here's what happens:

"On February 8, 1991, appellant tried to steal two cars. . . . Shortly thereafter, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Cleary responded to an attempted robbery and car theft call at a 7–Eleven store in Downey. When he arrived at the store, he saw appellant run through a nearby alley and then climb over a block wall. Once Deputy Cleary had positioned himself at one end of the alley and some neighborhood youth [!] at the other end to contain appellant, he called for backup. Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Lawrence, a dog handler, and Sergeant Robert Devot were among those who responded to Deputy Cleary’s call. They learned that appellant was a carjacking suspect on parole and that he had a prior weapons-related offense, but they did not receive any information to establish that he was armed or had injured anyone at this particular time. The deputies announced via both car loudspeakers and a helicopter that a dog would be deployed. At that point, appellant was under a car in a carport, hiding from the police. Approximately 15 minutes after the announcement—and 30 to 40 minutes after appellant had climbed over the block wall—the deputies began using a search dog.

The dog made its way to the carport where appellant had been hiding for 30 minutes, and Deputy Lawrence deployed the dog into that area attached to a 60-foot leash. When the dog first barked at appellant, he did not move. A few moments later, appellant heard a voice, the dog stopped barking and lights shone on the carport area. Appellant heard a voice over a loudspeaker directing him to come out from under the car with his hands in the open. As he started to comply, the dog bit appellant’s leg. Appellant screamed 'get him off.'

Meanwhile, Deputy Lawrence could not see the dog once it had entered the carport; he first saw it again when appellant, seated, was fighting with the dog—trying to pull the dog’s muzzle off of his leg and punching the dog in the head. The dog continued to bite down on appellant’s leg and also bit his hand when he tried to remove the dog by grabbing and pulling on its jaw. Both Deputy Lawrence and Sergeant Devot yelled at appellant to stop fighting the dog, but appellant continued to struggle with the dog, eventually grabbing and twisting its collar, choking the dog.

At that point, Deputy Lawrence began striking appellant with his flashlight, hitting appellant’s left arm, shoulder and leg in order to stop him from fighting the dog. Sergeant Devot also used his flashlight to strike appellant once. When appellant still had not released the dog, Sergeant Devot grabbed appellant’s arm while Deputy Lawrence grabbed the dog’s collar and pulled the dog off. Deputy Lawrence kicked appellant’s
upper body while pulling the dog away and both he and Sergeant Devot were ultimately able to restrain appellant.

Sergeant Devot and Deputy Cleary then handcuffed appellant. Appellant lost consciousness intermittently, waking up at one point in a patrol car and at another point in an ambulance. He regained full consciousness at Los Angeles County U.S.C. Medical Center, where he remained for the next four days. He sustained a large laceration to his lower left leg and backside as a result of the dog bite, as well as dog bites on his hands. He also sustained a blunt force trauma to his lower right leg. After his release from the hospital, he was confined to the jail hospital for another month. He also suffered an infection that required daily care for several months. Longer term, appellant lost some control over his left foot, had significant tissue loss and suffered from prominent deformities and scar tissue that negatively affected his mobility."

I was on board for releasing the dog. But I was a bummed when the dog bit the guy as he was following the police's instructions to get out from under the car. And could understand why the guy instinctively -- but obviously wrongly -- tried to fight the dog that was currently chomping on his body. Then, of course, came the multiple blows of the heavy flashlight, by both Deputy Lawrence and Sergeant Devot. Which gotta hurt. Then there's Deputy Lawrence's final kick on the guy's torso while the dog's being pulled away. Nice.

I understand why everything went down as it did. Still, that's an awful lot of injury for a dude that's just trying to get out from under the car to give himself up.

Doesn't seem right.