The city of Kent has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle an excessive-force lawsuit filed by a man who was shot with a Taser, beaten and bitten by a police dog during an arrest in 2016.
David E. Lewis Jr., who did not have a weapon, suffered serious bite injuries to his leg, was hit at least three times with a metal flashlight and had his face ground into the pavement, causing injuries to his mouth and teeth, after officers stopped him to serve a misdemeanor warrant in 2016, according to a civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court.
Lewis, a 56-year-old who has an extensive criminal history and is a registered sex offender, claimed in the lawsuit that he was walking near 25800 Pacific Highway South in Kent around 2 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2016, when he was cut off by a Kent police car driven by Officer Eli Morris. Morris exited the vehicle and told Lewis that he had a warrant for his arrest. Morris then pulled out a Taser as Officer Eric Tung, with his K-9 partner Kato, and another officer drove up and boxed Lewis in with their vehicles, according to the lawsuit.
Lewis did not have a weapon and “did not exhibit any signs of aggression or resistance,” according to the lawsuit. He was carrying a jug of laundry detergent in one hand and his cellphone in the other when the lawsuit alleges Tung released Kato, a large German shepherd, and directed him to attack.
“The unnecessary and unexpected use of the K-9 startled Plaintiff, who was terrified by being attacked by the powerful animal,” the lawsuit says. It claims he reacted by stepping back and trying to fend the dog off with the jug of detergent — actions he said prompted the officers to charge and take him to the ground.
Lewis was shot with the Taser and struck in the head with a 13-inch metal flashlight as the dog tore at his leg, the lawsuit says. In their reports, the lawsuit alleges, the officers downplayed the severity of his “apparent minor injuries.”
Lewis suffered severe lacerations to his leg — the largest nearly 4 inches long — and deep puncture wounds that required an ambulance trip to the emergency room and stitches, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the dog was in such a frenzy that it bit one of the officers as well.
Officers had a warrant for Lewis’ arrest on fourth-degree misdemeanor assault. He was later charged with resisting arrest and injuring a police dog, but a trial in November 2016 resulted in a hung jury. The case was eventually dismissed.
Geoff Grindeland, an attorney representing the officers and the city of Kent, said Friday that, “although we believe the use of force was reasonable under the circumstances, it was more economical to settle this claim than to litigate it.”
He said Kato has since been retired and his handler, Eric Tung, promoted to sergeant.
Tung and K-9 Officer Kato — who was once decorated after being stabbed during a confrontation with a domestic-violence suspect — have been named in two other lawsuits involving allegations of excessive force and negligence.
In March 2016, Tung released Kato while tracking a suspect in a theft and the dog instead attacked a citizen identified as Wilbur O’Brien Woodfolk, who had stepped outside the Monte Carlo tavern in Kent to smoke a cigarette. According to a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, the dog lunged for Woodfolk’s throat. When the man raised his arm, the dog “proceeded to bite and shake … Woodfolk’s right forearm, causing severe injury,” the lawsuit says. The city settled Woodfolk’s claim for $45,000, according to Grindeland.
Three months later, Aubrey Taylor, the target of a joint federal-state investigation into an alleged child sex-trafficking ring, was walking through the parking lot of the Hawthorne Suites motel in Kent when numerous armed officers appeared and ordered him to the ground, according to a handwritten lawsuit filed by Taylor in February from his cell at the Federal Detention Center. Taylor, who also has an extensive criminal history including a federal cocaine conviction, said he was confused “because he was in good standing with his bail bondsman,” but was in the process of kneeling when he was attacked by Kato, who bit his legs and back.
Taylor alleges he “begged the officers to get the dog off of him,” stating he was not armed, did not attempt to flee and has no history of eluding police.
“None of these charges constitute as violent crimes, yet officers used excessive force” during his arrest anyway, his lawsuit claims. That lawsuit is pending while Taylor, 33, awaits assignment to a federal prison to serve a 23-year prison term after being convicted in federal court in March of multiple counts involving sex trafficking of a minor.
Police dog bites can prove costly to departments and bite victims as well. Over the years, cities have paid more than $1 million to settle claims from errant K-9 bites.