The retired German shepherd and his handler are accused in both lawsuits of causing serious and unnecessary injuries to the men, neither of whom was armed.
A retired Kent police dog, once decorated after being stabbed during a confrontation with a domestic-violence suspect, is at the heart of two separate federal excessive-force lawsuits filed by men who were bitten during arrests by the department during 2016.
The K-9, a German shepherd named Kato, and his handler, Officer Eric Tung, are accused in both lawsuits of causing serious and unnecessary injuries to the men, neither of whom was armed. Both men said they were not resisting when the dog was loosed on them, according to court documents.
The first incident occurred in February 2016 and involved officers attempting to serve a misdemeanor warrant on a man named David E. Lewis Jr., a registered sex offender with an extensive criminal history.
The second incident involved the arrest in June 2016 of Aubrey Taylor by Kent police and federal agents in the parking lot of a hotel in Kent. Taylor has filed his handwritten lawsuit “pro se,” meaning he doesn’t have an attorney, from the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac where he is being held pending trial on federal charges of sex trafficking of a minor.
Court records show Tung and Kato also were named in a third lawsuit, filed in March 2016 in King County Superior Court, for negligence after the dog bit a bystander outside a Kent tavern after being let off his leash to pursue a thief. That case was settled for $45,000 following mediation, said Geoffrey Grindeland, a Bainbridge Island lawyer who represented the city.
Assistant Chief Jarod Kasner said the department has been served with at least one of the recent lawsuits, but that he didn’t have enough information to otherwise respond.
According to the Kent Police Department, Kato was retired from the force in January 2018.
News reports show the K-9 was seriously injured when he was stabbed while pursuing a suspect in a domestic violence assault. Afterward, concerned citizens raised enough money to purchase a protective vest for the dog.
Lewis, 56, claims in his lawsuit that he was walking near 25800 Pacific Highway South in Kent around 2 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2016, when he was cut off by a Kent police car driven by Officer Eli Morris, who exited the vehicle and reportedly told Lewis that he had a warrant for his arrest. Morris pulled out a Taser as Tung, his K-9, and two other officers drove up and boxed Lewis in with their vehicles, according to the lawsuit.
Lewis “did not exhibit any signs of aggression or resistance,” and was carrying a jug of laundry detergent in one hand and his cellphone in the other when the lawsuit alleges Tung released Kato and directed him to attack.
“The unnecessary and unexpected use of the K-9 startled Plaintiff, who was terrified by being attacked by the powerful animal,” the lawsuit said. It claims he reacted by stepping back and trying to fend the dog off with the jug of detergent — actions he said prompted the officers to charge and take him to the ground, the lawsuit said.
Lewis was shot with the Taser and struck in the head with a 13-inch metal flashlight as the dog tore at his leg, the lawsuit says. In their reports, the lawsuit alleges, the officers downplayed the severity of his “apparent minor injuries.”
Lewis said he suffered severe lacerations — the largest nearly 4 inches long — and deep puncture wounds that required an ambulance trip to the emergency room and stitches.
The lawsuit alleges that the dog was in such a frenzy that it bit one of the officers as well.
One of Lewis’ Seattle attorneys, Jordan Taren, said the arrest warrant alleged a fourth-degree assault. Lewis, he said, was later charged additionally with resisting arrest and offenses against a police dog. A trial in November 2016 resulted in a hung jury, Taren said, and the case has been repeatedly delayed since.
Taylor, in his handwritten claim, alleges he was walking through the parking lot of the Hawthorne Suites in Kent, smoking a marijuana joint, carrying a duffel bag and talking on the phone when numerous armed officers appeared and ordered him to the ground. Taylor, who also has an extensive criminal history including a federal cocaine conviction, said he was confused “because he was in good standing with his bail bondsman,” but was in the process of kneeling when he was attacked by Kato, who bit his legs and back.
Taylor alleges in his claim that he “begged the officers to get the dog off of him,” pointing out that he was not armed, did not attempt to flee and has no history of eluding police. “None of these charges constitute as violent crimes, yet officers used excessive force” during his arrest anyway, the lawsuit claims.
Police dog bites can prove costly to departments and bite victims as well. Over the years, cities have paid more than $1 million to settle claims from errant K-9 bites.