New footage showing dash cam video of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department using a K9 to make an arrest. Here’s the footage:
When a K9 is deployed on a citizen, that individual is “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. Assuming the seizure itself was lawful, the issue is whether the seizure may be “unreasonable” due to being an excessive level of force. The deployment itself of a police K9 during the course of a seizure may be unreasonable, depending on the circumstances.
Courts look to the Graham Factors: the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect is actively resisting or evading, and most importantly, whether the suspect poses an immediate safety threat to the officer, or others.
The Fourth Circuit held, as early as 1995, that the improper deployment of a police dog that mauls a suspect constitutes excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, deploying a dog against a suspected bank robber in a narrow alleyway without warning and a fair opportunity to surrender was unreasonable and excessive. Furthermore, doing so where the suspect was surrounded by police officers is itself unreasonable and excessive, even where a warning is given. (Kopf v. Wing (4th Cir. 1991).The Fourth Circuit has also held that sending a police dog into a home that contained a burglary suspect, without warning, resulting in severe injuries to the homeowner, was an excessive force violation. Vathekan v. Prince George’s County (4th Cir. 1998).
Repeatedly over the years, the Court has held generally that the use of serious or violent force, i.e., disproportionate force) in arresting or seizing an individual that has surrendered, or who is not actively resisting or attempting to flee, and who does not present a danger to others, is an unreasonable excessive force violation.
The 7th Circuit has denied qualified immunity to a police officer where he failed to call off a police dog that was mauling a “non-resisting (or at least passively resisting) suspect.” Becker v. Elfreich (7th Cir. 2016). That Court also denied qualified immunity to an officer who commanded a dog to attack a suspect who was already complying with orders, and where there were multiple backup officers present. Alicea v. Thomas (7th Cir. 2016).
The Fourth Circuit cited that last case in 2017 as providing “fair warning” to police officers that they will lose qualified immunity where an officer deploys a police dog against a suspect was was “not in active flight at the time he was discovered,” but was “standing still, arms raised….” Booker v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr. (4th Cir. 2017). The Court also cited a 6th Circuit case where officers deployed a police dog to apprehend a suspect that had given police no indication that he presented a danger to others, and was not actively resisting but “lying face down with his arms at his side.” Campbell v. City of Springboro (6th Cir. 2012).
The Fourth Circuit has also cited an 11th Circuit case denying qualified immunity where the officer ordered his K9 to attack a suspect that had previously surrendered and complied with the officer’s order to lie on the ground. Priester v. City of Riviera (11th Cir. 2000).
Generally speaking: Where K9s are deployed, a warning should be given, along with an opportunity to surrender, where possible. Deploying K9s on suspects who have been already subdued, surrounded, or who are not actively resisting or evading arrest, is also likely excessive force, with or without a warning. Deploying K9s on suspects who pose no immediate threat is generally going to be unreasonable. K9s should only be deployed where there exists a serious immediate safety threat in a tense, fast-moving situation, where there’s some actual reason for doing so.
Raw version of body cam: