Can a Police K-9 Dog Bite Be Considered Excessive Force?

K-9 dog bites can be a source of serious injury. If you suffered injuries from a police dog, we invite you to contact our Columbia, SC police brutality lawyers to see if you have a legal claim for excessive force. Call 803-590-3917 for a free case review with Shealey Law Firm.

K-9 Dog Bites in Policing

There are more than 200,000 K-9 police officers in the United States. These officers work with approximately 50,000 working dogs. However, the use of K-9 dogs in policing is controversial.

How many people are hurt by K-9 dog bites each year?

The Marshall Project reports that each year, more than 3,600 K-9 dog attacks require emergency medical care in the United States.

Can you sue if a police dog bites you?

If the police were unreasonable in ordering the police dog to attack, you may be able to sue if it bites you. The courts use a reasonableness test to examine the actions of officers and determine the victim’s right to compensation.

Are police dogs using excessive force?

  • K-9 dogs are trained to bite. When the police order an attack, they put the person and innocent bystanders in danger.
  • People have the right to be free of unreasonable seizures and excessive force, under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That includes the use of police dogs.
  • When use of a K-9 is unconstitutional, and a bite occurs, a victim may receive compensation for their damages.

The use of a police dog may be excessive force. A victim may have the right to claim financial compensation.

When are police dogs allowed to attack?

A police dog attack may be considered permissible and constitutional if it is necessary to mitigate an immediate threat or if a person is resisting arrest, evading or fleeing from law enforcement.

K-9 Police Dogs, Excessive Force and the Fourth Amendment

K-9 police dog attacks are evaluated for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a seizure of the person. Individuals have the right to be secure in their person against unreasonable seizures of the government, including law enforcement.

Whether a seizure is reasonable depends not only on whether the seizure is made, but how it is carried out. While the police have some authority to use coercion when making a physical seizure, there are limitations.

The test for K-9 police dogs and excessive force

The courts use the Graham factors to evaluate the use of a police dog. The factors are:

  1. The severity of the crime
  2. Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to officers or others
  3. If the person is resisting arrest, evading or fleeing

A claim for excessive force because of a bite is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force.

Because § 1983 does not create substantive rights, and instead merely enforces existing rights, the claim is analyzed under the Fourth Amendment protections of unreasonable seizure of the person.

The test for K-9 police dogs and excessive force:

  • Is a reasonableness test, based on an objective standard.
  • Balances the fact that use of K-9 force in policing is allowed, but that it may be dangerous, and even deadly.
  • Consider the totality of the circumstances.
  • Is a case-specific determination, based on what happened in the case at hand.

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989).

Some uses of K-9 police dogs are excessive force; some are not. It depends on the situation.

Note: Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) – Use of a police dog is not presumed use of deadly force. The probable cause analysis for use of deadly force is generally not applicable to use of police dogs.

Factors to consider in police dog excessive force cases

Factors that may be relevant to determining whether the police used excessive force include:

  • Number of officers present on the scene
  • Whether the officer gave verbal warnings of their intentions to use a police dog
  • Alternative options to secure the suspect
  • The underlying offense and the danger posed
  • How fast the events unfolded
  • Urgency of the threat
  • If backup could have responded to the scene
  • The immediate vicinity and surrounding circumstances

The officer’s actions are evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable, objective person as the scene unfolded. The courts don’t simply accept law enforcement’s position. If their use of force in unleashing a K-9 was excessive, the victim may claim compensation.

Common injuries from police dogs

  • Puncture wounds
  • Organ damage
  • Broken bones
  • Nerve damage
  • Scars
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of use of a limb
  • Infection
  • Eye injury
  • Crushing injuries
  • Soft tissue damage
  • Physical pain
  • Mental injury

Pursue Compensation for a Police Dog Bite

If you have been the victim of a K-9 police dog bite, we invite you to speak with us. You may have a claim whether you were the intended target or not. We can evaluate your situation and whether the use of the police dog was excessive in your case. If the police violated your rights, we can represent you in a claim for compensation.

To discuss your case with a lawyer, contact Shealey Law Firm for a free consultation. Learn if your dog bite is considered police excessive force and how much you may receive in compensation. Call 803-590-3917 or contact us online today.


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