Friday, February 19, 2010
APD Chief: Dog Bites Are Part of Job
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
Three police officers have been bitten by police service dogs since officer George Gabaldon had a Belgian Malinois clamp down on his calf during the November 2006 arrest of two men in a stolen vehicle, the canine unit supervisor testified Thursday.
Still, Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz, once a canine handler himself in the mid-1980s, said that a bite is an acceptable risk and he would not change the dog deployment policy because of the benefits he sees in officer safety and public safety.
"I feel confident that the handlers know best how to handle a situation," Schultz said in response to a question about why APD doesn't muzzle dogs in certain circumstances.
Schultz said he saw no inconsistency between the city's use-of-force policy and its canine policy, despite the number of people bitten.
A summary of reports supplied by the city to Gabaldon's legal team in discovery, compiled into a summary, shows 97 bites between 1996 and 2008, 71 of them during searches. Another case involving a sheriff's department officer bitten by a dog is scheduled for trial this summer.
Gabaldon's attorneys are asking Second Judicial District Judge Alan Malott to find the city created the risk that led to Gabaldon being bitten, meaning he can seek damages under state tort law instead of being bound by the limits of the workers compensation act.
Attorneys Brad Hall and Sam Bregman also contend that the court has the authority to order a policy change they say will better protect the public and officers — requiring dogs to be muzzled during searches where there is no imminent threat, as in Gabaldon's incident.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy said Gabaldon's injuries were simply an accident, not the result of egregious conduct by the city.
Gabaldon, fellow officer Jared Frazier and two other officers who were called to the scene near Candelaria and Carlisle NE had handcuffed the subjects who got out of the driver's side of the stolen pickup, according to testimony. Gabaldon had his gun trained on the passenger side door when he heard canine officer Josh Brown deploy his dog, Doc. The dog initially went toward the truck but then veered away toward Gabaldon's unit and bit him on the calf and the front of his leg.
Brown testified that he had made a mistake in the type of command he gave the dog, and then waited too long to issue a recall order, which the dog did not respond to. When he saw the dog biting Gabaldon, Brown said he rushed over to make Doc release his grip.
The other officers cleared the truck — making sure there was no one else inside — before assisting Gabaldon.
Nothing was decided Thursday.
Malott denied the city's motion to dismiss and said he would try to issue a letter ruling within a couple of weeks. After that, he said he would allow the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions law, clearly anticipating that one or more parties will take the ruling to the New Mexico Court of Appeals.