A Pierce County man has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against a Lakewood police K-9 handler and his supervisors, claiming the officer set his dog, K-9 Rock, on him after he had been taken into custody following a domestic dispute in 2017.
Adrian Damon Sims, 42, claims he had surrendered to Lakewood K-9 Officer James Syler and two Pierce County deputies after fleeing a domestic disturbance in Bonney Lake the night of Oct. 12, 2017, and was in handcuffs when he was bitten. The lawsuit alleges he suffered “serious bite wounds to his arms, leg, torso, neck and stomach.”
Syler and Lakewood Police Department have been sued five times in federal court since 2011 for incidents involving police dogs and alleged excessive use of force, resulting in settlements and medical payments totaling nearly $300,000. The incidents have resulted in severe, sometimes debilitating, injuries to suspects and innocent bystanders, according to court records.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this month by Medina attorney Stephen Plowman, alleges Lakewood police have a “pattern and practice” of civil rights violations involving the use of police dogs. The lawsuit is seeking at least $1.2 million in damages.
A Lakewood spokesperson said the city had no comment on the lawsuit since it is active litigation.
The lawsuit alleges that the Pierce County deputies, who are not defendants in the lawsuit, had been searching for Sims after he allegedly violated a domestic no-contact order, and had requested K-9 backup. Lakewood Officer Syler and his dog, K-9 Officer Rock, responded as part of an interlocal agreement act between Pierce County law enforcement agencies.
Sims had squeezed into a crawl space underneath the house, and was told by Syler to come out or the dog would be sent in.
“Upon seeing Officer Syler begin to lower Rock into the crawl space, Sims called out that he would surrender,” the lawsuit claims. “Officer Syler continued to lower Rock into the crawl space at which point Rock immediately located Sims and began biting sims around the neck and shoulder.”
Sims said he managed to grab the dog by the muzzle and pin the animal to the ground as Syler and one of the deputies entered the crawl space and Sims says he again agreed to surrender if Syler would call off the dog.
“Officer Syler agreed,” the lawsuit said. “Sims released his hold on the snout of Rock and let Rock free” and Syler restrained the dog as the deputies cuffed his hands behind his back.
“After Sims was handcuffed, he was again attacked by Rock who inflicted serious bites wounds to Sims’ arms, leg, torso, neck and stomach,” the lawsuit claims.
In 2014, in another incident in which Syler and his dog were aiding Pierce County, a Tacoma man, Chad Boyles, received a $225,000 settlement after he was attacked by K-9 Officer Astor, one of Syler’s previous canine partners. The pair were searching for a suspect in an unrelated incident.
Boyles, 27, was taking a walk to cool down after an argument with his brother early in the morning of May 7, 2011, when he said the police dog “came out of nowhere” and lunged for his throat. He threw up his right arm to protect himself, which was mangled and bitten to the bone before Syler could pull the dog off.
In 2016, Lakewood paid 24-year-old Kerry Tucker $22,500 to settle a federal excessive-force lawsuit against Syler and K-9 Astor, claiming he was attacked for no reason while walking near Bates Technical College campus in Tacoma. The dog was tracking a felony-warrant suspect, according to the lawsuit.
Tucker suffered “severe trauma and permanent injuries to his leg,” according to his lawsuit.
In 2009, Richard Conley was paid $15,000 after Astor, under Syler’s control, bit him in the back and arm. Conley was wanted on a felony warrant and was trying to hide in a bedroom when Astor bit him. According to a 2011 lawsuit, Conley required three surgeries and spent nine days in the hospital.
According to information compiled by The Seattle Times in 2013, Washington cities had paid out nearly $1 million in claims for police dog-bite related injuries in the previous five years.
In 2013, a federal jury found in favor of Lakewood and Syler following an eight-day trial of a lawsuit filed by Noel Saldana, who was permanently disabled during a mauling by Astor during another domestic-violence incident. While the city prevailed in the lawsuit, Lakewood paid about $42,000 of Saldana’s more than $134,000 in medical bills.