Seattle police have released body-camera video of a 2018 arrest that led to misconduct findings, later overturned by Police Chief Carmen Best, against a K-9 officer who broke department rules when he allowed his dog to bite a fleeing robbery suspect longer than necessary.
The Seattle Times requested the video in August, when it initially published a story on Best’s decision based on department documents. The department released the video Wednesday evening, attributing the delay in its release to a backlog in processing public-disclosure requests and the need to blur the face of the juvenile robbery suspect.
The department also scrambled to explain Best’s decision, saying it planned to post a statement on its website that although Best reversed the misconduct findings based on 2018 training standards, she believed the deployment of the dog was “not consistent with SPD’s Use of Force policy nor the values of our department” and took corrective steps.
The video of the July 20, 2018, arrest, which took place in South Seattle, shows Officer Ryan Huteson approaching the 16-year-old suspect, who had both hands raised with open palms. Huteson directed the dog to “take him.” As he waited for other officers to arrive, Huteson let the dog bite the suspect’s arm and shake its head for about 30 seconds after taking the suspect to the ground.
As he yelled in pain, the unarmed suspect told the officer, “I surrender, sir,” pleaded, “Sir, please, please,” and said, “I’m sorry,” according to the video and the documents.
The officer, who trained his gun on the man, responded, “Don’t [expletive] with my dog” and “don’t move.”
After the suspect was subdued, another officer asked him, “You know what would’ve prevented that?” The suspect replied, “Not doing it in the first place,” to which the officer responded, “Stopping when I told you to stop. You got what you deserved — I’m glad to see it.”
The suspect was treated at a hospital, where stitches were required for puncture wounds, according to a report from the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
After an internal investigation, Andrew Myerberg, the OPA’s civilian director, found the initial use of the dog to stop a fleeing felony suspect to be reasonable. The suspect had been seen with several other men kicking an older man during the theft of a cellphone, Myerberg wrote in a case summary.
“However, once the Subject was on the ground, had surrendered, and was no longer physically resisting, it was not proportional … to allow the K-9 to continue biting the Subject for nearly 30 seconds,” Myerberg wrote.
In his OPA interview, the officer said he didn’t immediately release the dog because he was worried the suspect still posed a threat.
But Myerberg found the officer had other options, including using his gun as cover or threatening to release the dog again. He noted the suspect wasn’t wearing a shirt and had no bulging pockets, nor any other signs of a weapon.
The officer’s actions had been referred to the OPA by the department’s Force Review Board, which found the force to be excessive.
But Best concluded that although the officer violated department policy, he acted on “very specific training” he had previously received that allowed him to wait for a backup officer to arrive before releasing the dog, she informed Mayor Jenny Durkan, the City Council and other officials in a July 30 letter, required whenever the chief overturns a misconduct finding.
Best’s letter came at a time when the department’s ability to hold officers accountable for misconduct was under fire, including a federal judge’s May ruling that the department had fallen partly out of compliance with a 2012 consent decree with the Department of Justice (DOJ) requiring the Police Department to address allegations that officers too often resorted to excessive force.
In the ruling, U.S. District Judge James Robart listed deficiencies in the Police Department’s discipline and appeal process stemming from the city’s contract with Seattle Police Officers Guild. He also strongly praised the department’s overall reform efforts. The city is continuing to work on a plan to satisfy Robart’s concerns.
After releasing the video to The Times, the Police Department said it planned to post the video on its website “due to public interest in police accountability.”
Following the 2018 arrest, Best ordered a thorough review of how the department uses K-9s, according to a statement the department plans to post with the video. The department worked with the OPA, the court’s monitor and the department’s inspector general, along with two independent canine training experts, to develop “meaningful policy recommendations,” the statement says.
The recommendations led to a new policy, approved by the monitor, the DOJ, the inspector general and the federal court. It states that “Handlers shall make all reasonable effort to avoid unnecessary and unnecessarily injurious bites” and “All canine uses of force shall be objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional.”
In a separate action, the inspector general is conducting an audit of K-9 operations, according to the statement.
Best, in her July 30 letter to Durkan and city officials, noted that the officer’s sergeant, lieutenant and captain had found his use of force to be consistent with training previously provided to the unit, which allowed K-9 officers to “hold a bite until another officer was present.”
Best wrote that it would be unfair to find the officer used excessive force.
“Ultimately, I agree with the OPA Director that it did [violate policy],” Best added. “I am also mindful, however, that officers are regularly called upon to manage often highly dynamic circumstances and that they must rely heavily on their training to do so.”
Myerberg, in his findings, expressed concern that the K-9 unit’s chain of command “consistently falls back on the defense that their officer’s actions were consistent with the training provided to the unit.”
He said if the unit has provided training inconsistent with policy, that is a “significant problem.”
“Moreover, such training, if deficient, cannot later be used as a defense for acts that are contrary with policy as it creates a self-perpetuating cycle of excessive force,” Myerberg wrote.