Constitutional Law

Pro se inmate who says he was bitten by a police dog wins federal appeal

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a case filed by a prisoner who claims his constitutional rights were violated when a police dog bit him during an arrest.

The prisoner, Demone Smith, claimed a police officer in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, sicced a dog on him in December 2008 even though he was kneeling with his hands in the air, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Smith filed the suit pro se, writing out most of his motions in block print, the story says.

Smith claimed police used excessive force during the arrest, violating his Fourth Amendment rights. A Minneapolis federal judge concluded the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity and tossed the suit. In an unpublished May 1 opinion (PDF), the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the action.

Videos of the incident show that, three times in a row, Smith got out of his car and then got back in, according to the Star Tribune. Police called in a K-9 unit. When Smith exited his car a fourth time, the dog grabbed Smith’s jacket and pulled him across the street. At that point, Smith got down on his knees and raised his arms in the air. The officer redeployed the dog, even as other officers pointed their guns at Smith. The dog bit Smith on the thigh, according to Smith’s suit.

“Under these facts,” the appeals court said in its per curiam opinion, “a reasonable officer would not think that redeploying the police dog was a reasonable use of force.”

Smith claims he suffered two puncture wounds from the dog bite, causing nerve damage and permanent scarring. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to distributing cocaine in December 2009.

A lawyer for the defendant police officer told the Star Tribune the video will show that use of the dog was justified and Smith was not injured.

Hat tip to @AppellateDaily.

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