Police Dog Attacks Innocent Woman, Tears Her Lip Open

Katherine Proctor | Courthouse News Service

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – The Ninth Circuit on Friday revived excessive-force claims by a woman whose lip was torn open by a San Diego police dog at work.

Bars litter the landscape surrounding Sara Lowry’s office in Pacific Beach, San Diego, and Lowry had been at a few of them after work on Feb. 11, 2010.

On her way home at about 9:30, however, the memory of leftover lunch in the office refrigerator lured Lowry back to her company’s suite.

A quick nosh turned into a nap on the office couch, and things came to a head when Lowry woke up to use the bathroom and accidentally triggered a neighboring business’s alarm.

Several San Diego Police Department officers responded, along with a police service dog named Bak. The officers searched the area and gave several warnings before releasing Bak, who found Lowry and pounced on her, tearing open her upper lip.

The responding sergeant, Sgt. Bill Nulton, told Lowry after the attack that she was “very lucky” because Bak “could have ripped [her] face off.”

Lowry answered with a lawsuit against the city, saying San Diego’s policy of training police dogs to “bite and hold” violates the Fourth Amendment.

Though a federal judge granted the city summary judgment, the Ninth Circuit reversed 2-1 Friday – a welcome development for Lowry’s attorney.

“I am very pleased that Sara Lowry’s case will continue towards trial,” attorney Jeffrey Lake said in an email. “I also look forward to police departments across the country implementing safer canine procedures to better protect the public.

Though the lower court had relied solely on the amount of force involved, the appellate majority cited Supreme Court precedent Friday that says the type of force and the potential harm the force may cause carry weight as well.

“In this case we must not rely on the plaintiff’s ‘luck’ that she only ended up bleeding profusely from a cut lip rather than having her whole face ‘ripped off’ to excuse the conduct that the officer himself recognized could well have resulted in a far more egregious injury,” Judge Wallace Tashima wrote for the majority.

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  • Witchwindy

    The job of a cop is not all that dangerous (not even on the top 20 list of dangerous jobs), if they don’t want to be exposed to that minimal danger then they should seek a different job. They are supposed to protect the public from criminals, even at the cost of their own lives; if they don’t like that their job requires that kind of commitment, they should not have become cops in the first place! I hope she not only wins her lawsuit, I hope the cops involved get fired and blackballed from any policing or security job, if not actually be arrested and tried for using excessive force in a situation that did not call for extreme measures.