Broward Deputy With Troubled History Faces Civil Trial in Police Dog-Bite Case

FLORIDA – Broward Sheriff’s deputy, accused multiple times of brutality, will be back in court again Monday to face a civil suit that accuses him of letting his police dog attack a suspect for up to 20 minutes.

Deputy Gerald Wengert, known as Jerry, became well known when he and one of his dogs were featured in the past on the TV reality show “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County.”

Attorneys for Reginald Chatman are seeking $135,000 in compensation and damages for dog-bite injuries to his left hip, knee and leg during a 2014 arrest in Tamarac.

Wengert denies any wrongdoing.

Chatman admits he was high on cocaine and Ecstasy when he stole about $30 worth of items from a CVS and then pushed deputies and ran off when they tried to question him.

Wengert and his police dog at the time, Diesel, were called to the scene and found Chatman hiding in a bush.

The three-day jury trial, which starts Monday in federal court in Miami, is focused on one very narrow issue: the length of time that Wengert allowed the highly trained dog to bite and latch on to Chatman’s leg.

Chatman says he made it clear that he was surrendering to law enforcement as soon as Diesel bit him.

“[Wengert used] excessive force when he maliciously and sadistically released his K-9 unit [dog] on Chatman and allowed the K-9 unit to continue the attack for an inhumane length of time,” the lawsuit alleges.

Chatman says the dog bit him for 15 to 20 minutes while Wengert says it was only a matter of seconds, court records show. Chatman concedes he was legally arrested and that Wengert was entitled to use the police dog to catch him.

Wengert “made no efforts to temper the severity of such a forceful response” and allowed the dog to continue to “attack” Chatman “unfettered for nearly twenty minutes,” Chatman’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

Both sides are hoping to conceal their clients’ troublesome pasts from the jury, though that information may still come out in court, depending on how they testify.

Chatman, now 25, has prior arrests and is serving a state prison sentence after pleading guilty to related criminal charges of battery, resisting or obstructing a police officer without violence, and petit theft. He will be wearing civilian clothing in the courtroom.

Attorneys for the deputy are also trying to ensure that the jury won’t find out about repeated allegations of misconduct by him.

Wengert, 39, has four civil lawsuits pending against him in federal court — all involving allegations of excessive force. One involves a wrongful death suit for an on-duty fatal shooting by Wengert.

Prosecutors from the Broward State Attorney’s Office have two open criminal investigations pending concerning Wengert’s actions in the Chatman case and another incident with two street artists. In the artists’ case, Wengert and another deputy are accused of antagonizing a police dog into attacking two men, suspected of spray-painting graffiti on freight train cars, after they surrendered in January 2014.

Wengert has worked in law enforcement since 1999 and for the Broward Sheriff’s Office since 2004.

In recent years, Wengert has been found not guilty after a criminal trial in an unrelated case, served two suspensions and has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple internal affairs investigations.

In 2012, Wengert was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint by his own agency. He was suspended, without pay, from July 2012 to August 2013 while he waited to go to trial on criminal charges that he beat up a 17-year-old boy. A jury found him not guilty, and he returned to duty with more than $63,500 in back pay.

The Sheriff’s Office has cleared Wengert in nine separate internal affairs investigations.

Wengert returned to work in September 2016 after a paid 15-month suspension while one of the cases was investigated. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges in the alleged beating of a suspect and Wengert was cleared by an internal affairs investigation.

Since his return to work, Wengert is no longer a canine officer; he is assigned to regular road patrol in Cooper City. His current basic salary is $75,673.

Diesel is retired and lives with Wengert.

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