City of Palo Alto sued over police-dog bite

Teen was allegedly mauled during unprovoked attack during a police investigation

A Palo Alto mother has filed a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department for civil rights violations after her teenage son was bitten by a police dog, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

The teen, identified in the lawsuit by his initials, T.M., is African-American and was 16 years old at the time. He was allegedly mauled by a police dog while officers stood by and watched, according to the civil complaint. The teen suffered cuts, lacerations and scrapes on his body and deep puncture wounds to his legs and hands.

The boy's mother, Alacia Hafner, filed the case on May 2 on behalf of her son, who is still a juvenile. It alleges Fourth Amendment violations for police use of excessive force and unlawful search and seizure.

The lawsuit also alleges violations of California civil rights laws against hate violence and guaranteeing protection from threats, intimidation, coercion and interference with an individual's constitutional rights. Other claims include assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence and violations of the state dog bite statute.

The teen was walking or standing with friends on April 7, 2016, at about 2 a.m. at the corner of Bryant Street and Bryant Court. Police arrived with their sirens on and stopped their squad cars at the two corners where the teens were located, according to the civil complaint.

An officer allegedly pulled up to the boy with her gun drawn. The boy allegedly had his hands raised in the air, did not run and was compliant, the lawsuit claims. He did not have any warrants and was not on probation or parole. A police dog ran out of the back seat of an officer's vehicle and allegedly attacked the boy, according to the complaint. The teen was eventually taken to a hospital for treatment and was arrested, but no charges were filed.

The complaint does not mention why he was arrested. Palo Alto police Sgt. David Lee said on Wednesday that he could not release any information about the case.

The lawsuit claims there was no reasonable suspicion that the teen had committed any crimes before he was detained and there was no probable cause to believe that he had committed any crimes before his arrest. There was also no good cause to exert force, much less the amount of force used against him, the lawsuit alleges.

As a result of the dog attack and his injuries, the teen has continued to experience emotional trauma and physical pain, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit singles out the City of Palo Alto, interim Chief of Police Ron Watson, and officers Bradley Young, Marcus Barbour, Todd Whitehurst, Marianna Villaescusa, Khalil Tannous, Daniel Fino, Paul Burgio and Nicholas Enberg. It does not specify an amount for damages, but an Oct. 4, claim filed with the city asked for damages in excess of $500,000. The city later rejected the claim.

The complaint alleges that the police department does not properly train its officers regarding excessive use of force and that its dogs are trained in bite-and-hold techniques that cause greater injury when subduing individuals suspected of crimes.

Officials at the City Attorney's Office said they had not yet been served with the lawsuit. A request for comment has not been returned by Hafner's attorney, Bob Khakshooy, of Beverly Hills.


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8 people like this
Posted by Wow!
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2017 at 9:00 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by no worries
a resident of Mountain View
on May 10, 2017 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Tom from Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2017 at 11:11 am

Tom from Midtown is a registered user.

The article does not have any of the details, and I'm guessing that's entirely appropriate. But if folks want a broader picture that may help to put this story in context, I would like to recommend two books most strongly: one is Chris Hayes' A Colony in a Nation; the other is Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. I think it is hard for many in Palo Alto to think that the kinds of distressing incidents we see happening elsewhere could be relevant to what happens here. I believe these books might change those perceptions, and that this would be a good thing.

29 people like this
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2017 at 11:18 am

Scottie Zimmerman is a registered user.

I have met our PAPD K-9 and his handler, Officer Brad Young. In fact, Officer Young and his K-9 partner have been generous enough to participate in public events involving a nonprofit group I represent (Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter). In all these cases (Dog-O-Ween, 2014, and Pet-A-Palooza 2014 and 2015), both Officer and K-9 displayed perfect manners and greeted people of all ages (and their dogs) in a friendly, relaxed manner. In my experience, the K-9 is a well-trained and beautiful example of his breed and Officer Young is a responsible, careful handler.

(I am deliberately not using the K-9's name as I notice the name is not used in newspaper articles. I believe the PAPD prefer not to credit a specific dog in a report on pursuing and capturing a suspect.)

30 people like this
Posted by Excuse Me, But...
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Excuse Me, But... is a registered user.

I helped to train police dogs for San Jose when I was in college.

I know that these dogs are expensively and highly trained, and will NOT attack unless:

The dog is commanded to ( usually, but not always, in German), OR

The handler/owner/officer is BEING attacked.

So, apparently, one of these two situations took place. While I doubt that any PAPD K9 officer would command
His dog to attack without a very good reason, it will obviously up to the court to determine exactly what happened on that fateful day.

27 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 11, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Alphonso is a registered user.

The story makes me wonder why a 16 year old was out friends at 2AM and why were the police responding to that intersection with sirens on?

22 people like this
Posted by !Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2017 at 4:12 pm

!Bill is a registered user.

Here's what I heard:

Just after 2 AM, Palo Alto Police received a report of more than a half dozen young men near the convenience store at the corner of Lytton and Waverley. One of the men in the group was reported to have had a handgun.

Palo Alto Police responded to the area, but before a sufficient number of units arrived, the group walked away from the corner. Some of the men split from the main group. Police followed the group and eventually stopped four of the men at Bryant and Bryant Court.

Because of report of a handgun, at least one officer drew their weapon and the dog was deployed. One of the men was bitten multiple times and taken by Palo Alto Fire to the hospital. Another man, an adult, fell and hit his head. Before that man was also taken to the hospital, he admitted to being at Lytton and Waverley and drinking with the group. He failed a breathalyzer test. He further said that the handgun was a pellet gun and was thrown away somewhere between corner of Lytton and Waverley and Bryant and Bryant Court. Palo Alto Police were, at least initially, unable to locate the gun.

Of course it's now up to a court to decide who and what to believe.

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