A man who was bit in the face by a police dog is suing the city of Lodi and six Lodi Police officers in federal court.
Dean Newhall suffered torn flesh, crushed tissue, punctures and severe nerve damage after a police dog bit him last April.
Newhall was allegedly under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident and attacked an officer, stole his baton and attempted to injure him, City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said.
Newhall is facing criminal charges for battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
His attorney, Russell Humphrey, said his client filed the lawsuit because he was in custody and on the ground, handcuffed, when the police dog bit him in the face.
"With a 12-inch scar on your face for the rest of your life, it's going to affect your mental health, relationships and even the ability to get a job," Humphrey said.
On Wednesday night, the Lodi City Council voted to hire Stockton-based attorney Mark Berry, of Mayall, Hurley, Knutsen, Smith & Green, to help represent the six officers. The city is self-insured for liability up to $500,000 and will use a reserve fund to pay for the attorney.
"We don't hire outside counsel for standard employee cases. We do hire them in cases where the allegations are significant-looking allegations," Schwabauer said.
According to court documents Newhall and his attorney filed, police received a call on April 17 about a man yelling at traffic at Lockeford and Washington streets.
An officer arrived and tried to speak with Newhall, who was walking north on Main Street.
The officer said Newhall was under the influence. As Newhall began to walk away, the officer shouted at him to stop and get down on his knees.
That is when Newhall ran toward the officer. The officer swung a baton, but Newhall blocked it and the officer fell to the ground.
Another officer arrived and shot Newhall repeatedly with a Taser.
In total, six officers were on scene when police grabbed Newhall's arms and legs, cuffed his hands behind his back and subdued him by placing the weight of their bodies on him, Humphrey said.
According to the court documents, an officer with a canine arrived, locked his vehicle and rolled up all of the windows except one, and left Bronx, the police dog, in the car.
Newhall said he was on the ground with the canine officer holding his legs and searching him, when Bronx jumped from the car and bit the left side of Newhall's face.
While in his office, Humphrey got down on the ground and copied the position Newhall said he was in that day with his arms cuffed behind his back.
"This is not a case where the young man was committing a crime, or the police were chasing him and the dog bit him. ... What's particularly egregious about this is Mr. Newhall was on the ground hand cuffed, with a police officer laying on his back," Humphrey said.
The dog acted of its own volition, and Bronx was retired soon after the altercation, Schwabauer said.
Newhall filed a claim with the city, which is the first step toward a lawsuit, but the city rejected it.
"Someone engaged in an unprovoked attack on a police officer and knocked him on the ground and raised a baton to strike him on the head while he was on the ground," Schwabauer said. "I don't believe in paying people who do that money."
While he does not excuse his client's actions, Humphrey said one of the officers should have grabbed the dog or given it a verbal cue before it bit Newhall.
"Once someone is in the custody of the police department, I think the police have a duty to protect those people," he said.
Police dogs are trained to go for the arms or legs, and Humphrey said it is unfortunate it bit Newhall's face.
Since the dog bite, Newhall has already paid over $32,000 in medical bills, a number that Humphrey said will only keep increasing.
Newhall said in court documents that he is afraid to shave because he does not want to reveal the scar. He is also worried he will not be able to get a job working with the public because of the scars.
Humphrey is trying to get Newhall in touch with a plastic surgeon, and he hopes the lawsuit will result in Newhall getting as much money as he can to rebuild his life.
"I think obviously the police agency violated Mr. Newhall's civil rights," he said.