Seattle, WA

Woman bitten by Seattle police dog is suing the city

Justin Ward
Leashed German shepherd showing an attack posture. German shepherds are one of the dogs most commonly employed by police for general use.( / CC0 Public Domain license)

A woman bitten by a Seattle police dog during a training exercise is suing the City of Seattle for personal injury, according to a complaint filed in King County Superior Court in June.

In January of last year, the woman was eating her lunch on the sidewalk next to her car at her workplace in Tukwila, where Seattle police officers were training a police dog to track. The dog's handler had it on a long leash and lost sight of the animal around the corner of the building, where it encountered the woman and bit her in the thigh.

The suit claims the city is liable for the practice of allowing police officers to train dogs in populated areas during normal business hours. It also alleges that the dog's handler Officer Anthony Ducre was personally negligent in failing to control the dog.

Since he joined the Seattle Police Department's canine unit in 2018, Ducre has been investigated three times for violating policies on canine use of force.

In 2019, he was suspended for two days without pay for directing his dog to bite a man and a woman who were unarmed and not suspected of having committed a violent crime, according to a report by the Office of Police Accountability.

The OPA found that Ducre violated department policies limiting force use to instances when it is "ojbectively reasonable, necessary and proportional."

At the time the dog was used, the man was on his knees with his hands in the air. He had not resisted threatened Ducre. The OPA director questioned the basis for the stop, writing that "the level of proof [Ducre] had connecting the Subjects to this offense arguably did not even rise to probable cause."

Later, after the couple was in custody, the dog escaped from Ducre's vehicle and bit the man again while he was cuffed on the ground, according to the report. The dog did not comply with Ducre's release orders, and he had to get help from other officers.

Ducre was investigated again in 2019 for using his dog to capture someone fleeing the scene of an illegal street race. In this case, Ducre's dog bit a person while tracking. According to the OPA report, "when effectuating a track, K-9s are trained to bite the subject if located."

The dog bit twice for a total of 1 minute and 20 seconds. On the second bite, he again refused to obey Ducre's release orders, according to the report. Ducre's use of force in this case was not "consistent with policy," the OPA director wrote, but the oversight agency chose not to discipline him, citing problems with department training.

Ducre was brought before the OPA a second time that same year for letting his dog off leash to track and bite a man who had violated a domestic violence protection order. This ran afoul of department directives passed in response to a high-profile incident in which a police dog was used to bite a surrendering teenager.

The OPA found that Ducre violated the directive, which limits off-leash deployments to serious felonies, violent crimes and suspects who pose an imminent threat to the public. The agency nevertheless declined to issue discipline, arguing that the directions given to Ducre by command were confusing and contradictory.

Ducre led SPD's K-9 team in bites and deployments in his first two years with the unit, according to data obtained through a public records request. Department use of force data shows that he used deadly force seven times since 2014, which is rare.

In that same period, he has been the subject of 11 investigations by the OPA, half of which are for use of force.

The lawsuit has not specified monetary damages and the City of Seattle has yet to respond to the complaint at this time.

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Justin Ward is an investigative reporter specializing in police accountability as well as local politics, housing and homelessness.

Seattle, WA

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