A Lakewood man has sued the Lakewood Police Department after being attacked by a police dog at his home in September of 2018. Spencer Erickson, who was 25 at the time of the incident, was attacked by …
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A Lakewood man has sued the Lakewood Police Department after being attacked by a police dog at his home in September of 2018.
Spencer Erickson, who was 25 at the time of the incident, was attacked by a K-9 named Finn, a Belgian malinois breed, who was released by officers at his apartment, located at the 7300 block of West Hampden Avenue, the lawsuit says.
If the dog’s teeth had dug millimeters deeper into his neck, Erickson would’ve died, the lawsuit alleges. Additionally, Erickson says the officers had no justification for sending an unsupervised, known dangerous dog to find and apprehend him.
“An incident like this was the natural consequence of Lakewood’s decision. What that dog did to Mr. Erickson is horrifying,” said Adam Frank, the lawyer representing Erickson.
On Sept. 21, 2018, Erickson’s roommate Drew McGuire called Lakewood Police alleging property damage, saying Erickson made a hole in the attic of the Lakewood apartment and was possibly in the crawlspace. McGuire told police Erickson drank vodka and may have used marijuana. She never reported any violent behavior or threats from Erickson, and he doesn’t have a violent past, the lawsuit reads. Erickson had three outstanding arrest warrants, including failure to appear for a case involving possession of a controlled substance, failure to appear for a case involving criminal mischief and failure to comply in a driving under the influence case.
Frank described the relationship between Erickson and McGuire as “mildly contentious” and roommates who disagreed over “typical roommate stuff.”
A team of six officers responded to McGuire and attempted to call and text Erickson’s phone, telling him to come out of the apartment with his hands up. If he failed to do so, police warned him they would bring the dog into his apartment, the lawsuit says.
After not hearing a response or seeing any movement from the apartment, police unleashed the dog into the apartment. After a search, the dog found and attacked Erickson.
The lawsuit claims that Erickson had been asleep at the time of the attack. The suit goes on to say that the neck wounds cause by Finn permanently damaged his vocal cords.
Erickson was hospitalized following the incident, and later pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for damaging the apartment and was sentenced to probation.
The dog has a violent history, the lawsuit says. News reports from 2014 detail how Finn bit and injured Lakewood Police Agent Patrick Lone in a training exercise, causing him to miss a month of work.
Finn remains on the force today, according to John Romero, a spokesperson for Lakewood Police.
The Lakewood Police Department’s K-9 unit consists of three dogs. Aside from forceful detainment work, K-9s help search for missing people, or fugitives and can detect narcotics, or weapons.
“Lakewood knew that (the dog) bit people when he wasn’t supposed to in ways that caused massive damage, and they decided to keep using him,” said Frank.
In seeking restitution Erickson says he continues to suffer from pain, injuries, trauma, trouble sleeping, nightmares and a fear of dogs. He was also diagnosed with PTSD as a result from the incident, according to the lawsuit.
Lakewood Police’s view
Romero said the department can’t comment on an ongoing lawsuit. He did, however, provide police reports from the incident.
The reports read similar to that of the lawsuit, except details of the attack on Erickson. According to the report from Lakewood Police Agent Edward Baggs, an agent at the scene, he heard Lakewood Police Agent Ryan O’Hayre yelling at Erickson, telling him to “stop fighting the police dog.” The report reads that Erickson fought and interfered with the police dog during apprehension.
After the incident, Erickson was taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood. At the hospital, Baggs details Erickson yelling slurs and profanity at hospital staff who were treating his injuries. Erickson attempted to remove his bandages and monitoring equipment, prompting hospital staff to restrain him to his hospital bed using cloth straps.
According to the Lakewood Police’s policy and procedure for its K-9 program, deployment of a Lakewood dog by its handler can be considered use of force, depending on the circumstance. When deciding whether to release a dog, the handler must determine if it’s reasonable to do so. Dogs can be released depending on the severity of the crime, if a suspect poses a threat to the safety of police or citizens and if a suspect is actively resisting arrest, or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
Before releasing the dog, the handler must consider information like the suspect’s perceived age, the nature of the suspected offense, any potential danger to the public and officer(s) at the scene if the dog is released, any unnecessary risk to the safety of the dog and the degree of resistance or threatened resistance the suspect has shown.
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