YPD responds to video showing police dog biting pinned-down DUI suspect
YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police have responded to a controversial video showing an officer using a police dog to bite a pinned-down DUI suspect to get him to put his hands behind his back.
While the incident is under internal review — a standard procedure for any use of force by a YPD officer — Lt. Chad Stephens said using a K9 as a “pain compliance” tool is within the department’s use of force policy.
“I think it was a good choice in the use of force realm and it was an effective choice,” Stephens said.
The incident — which happened Tuesday — has been publicly criticized by Yakima Community Aid, a local youth activism group, which published a statement Wednesday calling the use of force, “unnecessary and excessive.”
Attempted traffic stop leads to use of force incident
According to court documents, a 53-year-old man was driving east on U.S. Highway 12 just after 8 p.m. when a Washington State Patrol trooper noticed him swerve over the center line dividing the lanes three times.
When the trooper turned on their emergency lights to pull the truck over, the driver took the next exit onto 40th Avenue and pulled into the Fred Meyer parking lot, court documents said.
The driver reportedly circled the parking lot before he stopped abruptly, got out of the truck and stared at the trooper, who drew his department-issued pistol and ordered the driver to get on the ground.
“The driver yelled ‘f*** you’ and attempted to walk away,” court documents said.
As the driver walked away, the trooper holstered his pistol and took out his Taser, continuing to ask the man to get down on the ground, court documents said.
“The driver yelled ‘kill me.’ I told the driver I did not want to kill him,” the trooper said in court documents.
The trooper reportedly tried to grab the driver’s arm twice unsuccessfully and watched as the driver began to walk toward the store entrance.
“At this point, I became concerned for the public’s safety if he was able to enter the store,” the trooper said in court documents.
Stephens said the trooper tackled the driver to the ground, with two civilians nearby jumping in to help hold the man down.
Soon after, Stephens said Yakima police K9 officer arrived, saw the struggle, took out his K9 and brought it over behind the suspect.
According to court documents, the trooper and officer warned the driver multiple times that if he did not give them his hands to be placed in handcuffs, the dog was going to bite him.
“The driver continued to resist and placed his hands underneath his body,” court documents said.
Stephens said at that point, the officer directed the dog toward the man’s right leg and commanded it to bite the man.
Once bitten, the man put his hands behind his back and officers handcuffed him before removing the dog from the man’s leg, according to court documents.
The trooper said he noticed the man had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and smelled like intoxicants. The man was taken to Virginia Mason Memorial hospital for treatment and a blood test to determine if he had any intoxicants in his system.
The man was arrested and booked into the Yakima County jail on suspicion of driving under the influence, resisting arrest, eluding and obstructing a law enforcement officer.
In accordance with standard use of force policy, the incident is being reviewed internally within the police department. Stephens said the review for this incident will take a little longer due to K9 unit involvement, but should be done in about two weeks.
Yakima Community Aid speaks out against use of force
Yakima Community Aid took issue with several factors involved in the use of force incident, one of which involved a potential language barrier.
Representatives said that the man being tackled was not able to comply with officers’ demands because he did not understand English and the demands were not given in Spanish.
“The man was shouting in Spanish, trying to figure out what was going on … but no officers on scene knew Spanish,” said Noemi Sanchez, one of the founding members of Yakima Community Aid, who witnessed the incident and captured it on video.
While a Spanish-speaking officer eventually arrived on scene, Sanchez said they spent more time talking to Spanish-speaking witnesses than to the injured man.
Sanchez and other youth activists also took issue with the officer’s use of force while the man was on the ground.
“From my perspective, there was no attempt at deescalating the situation,” Sanchez said. “It was automatically, ‘Let’s use this unnecessary force that was not needed.’ When the man was already pinned down to the ground, the dog was excessive.”
Sanchez said the injuries to the man from the dog bite were enough that he couldn’t stand on his own.
“He couldn’t put any weight on his leg,” Sanchez said. “It took five officers and two medical staff to lift him up off the ground onto the gurney.”
The statement from Yakima Community Aid also criticized officers for not wearing face masks during the incident, which is in violation of the state mandate requiring face masks in public.
Yakima Community Aid held a demonstration Wednesday evening to protest the incident, bringing signs and chalking messages onto sidewalks at the corner of First Street and Yakima Avenue.
“We got a lot more engagement from people that are driving by than we have in the past,” Sanchez said.
The youth activism group previously presented a list of demands to the Yakima Police Department for improved policing, including Spanish-language education for all city police officers to ensure they are “culturally competent.”
“Part of that includes knowing the language that the majority population of the city speaks,” the statement said. “Without clear communication cops will continue to escalate situations and hurt our communities.”
Sanchez said discussions with city officials regarding the group’s demands are ongoing.
Yakima police respond to community concerns
Yakima police posted a statement Thursday on social media that further explained the incident and addressed community concerns, including that of the potential language barrier.
In the statement, Sgt. Tory Adams said the suspect in question did speak and understand English well enough to know what was going on. He pointed to the suspect’s shouted obscenity at the trooper, which was in English.
“I mention it was in English because in a video posted on social media there was an assertion that the subject did not understand English. This is false,” Adams said.
Stephens responded to concerns about the use of force in the video.
“The reason that the officer decided to use the K9 was because of the civilians that were helping,” Stephens said.
Stephens said while the trooper appreciated the civilians’ help with keeping the suspect down until backup arrived, their involvement restricted officers from several other use of force tools that would typically be deployed before using a K9.
With the civilians so close to the suspect, Stephens said there was no room for officers to use a Taser, pepper spray or a baton and a pressing need to get the suspect into handcuffs as quickly as possible.
“The longer you prolong a use of force, the more chance of injury to officers and the suspects, and in this case, civilians that were in the area,” Stephens said.
Sanchez criticized this explanation, arguing that the officers shouldn’t have needed to use the other use of force methods anyway, as the man was in a prone position.
“Why would they have to use pepper spray or baton or a Tazer or any other weapon on a community member who is already being pinned down?”
After hearing the officers’ perspective on the incident, Sanchez maintained that the use of force was unacceptable.
“No matter what this man did, there’s no reason for him to be treated the way he was treated,” Sanchez said.
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