Colorado Springs settles lawsuit after police K-9 attacks bystander, pays $175,000
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The City of Colorado Springs settled a lawsuit Tuesday with a man claiming he was wrongfully attacked by a Colorado Springs Police dog — the second such payout in the last nine months.
According to a complaint obtained by 13 Investigates, on the night of June 20, 2021, Jason Shelton was riding his bike on Galley Road near Auburn Drive in Colorado Springs when he was attacked by Ozzie — a K-9 officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Before the attack, the complaint states CSPD officers were responding to a reported break-in on Galley Road. Soon after officers arrived, a man fled the scene. One of the CSPD officers chased the suspect until he ran into some trees.
Meanwhile, Shelton, fixing a chain on his bike, saw the entire chase. According to court documents, Shelton was never given any orders from the police on what to do, so he started to leave the area.
The complaint states CSPD officer Alan Radke, the handler for K-9 Ozzie, was also chasing the burglary suspect when he saw Shelton riding away on his bike. Despite the other officer reportedly telling Radke the suspect was in the trees, the court documents state Radke started chasing Shelton.
According to court documents, Radke never identified himself as a police officer or told Shelton to stop before releasing his K-9.
The court document states, “At that time, a reasonable officer would have known that: (a) he had seen only one subject exit the building, (b) Officer Downs had chased that subject into the treed area off the side of Galley Road, (c) Officer Downs had yelled that the subject they were chasing was in the treed area, and (d) Officer Downs had yelled to him that he was chasing the wrong person.”
K-9 Ozzie pulled Shelton off his bike and started biting his arm, pulling him into the middle of the street. Body cam footage shows the dog tugging at Shelton’s arm for almost an entire minute, while Shelton is begging the officers to take the dog off of him. While the dog is biting Shelton, a car runs over his leg.
The officers on the scene, including Radke, agree Shelton had nothing to do with the burglary, according to court documents.
After the incident, Radke can be heard in body camera footage obtained by 13 Investigates saying, “See this is why you stay in the military. So when you f— up, you have a backup job."
Despite Shelton being innocent, he was still arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer.
This is not the first time the Colorado Springs Police Department has been under fire for aggressive K-9 attacks. Two other incidents happened in 2021.
On March 23, 2021, police were searching for Christopher Correll after receiving a call for a domestic disturbance. Correll had left the scene and was found hiding from police underneath a truck.
Police-worn body camera video shows that when police found Correll, they were able to get him to stand up from underneath the truck, and eventually had him put his arms up in the air, as he appeared to argue with police.
Correll was surrounded by three police officers, including Police K-9 Odin, as well as CSPD K-9 Sergeant Mike Snuggs.
Correll eventually put his arms down, not turning around as the police requested. Odin then ran at Correll, bringing him down to the ground while biting at his legs.
Correll sued, eventually agreeing to a $190,000 settlement with the city.
On June 17, 2021, a suspect was hiding in a crawl space when a CSPD officer sent his K-9 into the crawl space to get the suspect. According to court documents, the suspect received significant damage to his arm despite not being a threat to police.
Shelton’s federal lawsuit states, “Radke’s actions represent just one more entry in a long history of brutality committed by Colorado Springs K-9 officers. Colorado Springs K-9 officers engage in brutality because it is what Colorado Springs has trained them to do. Colorado Springs has enacted and trains its K-9 officers to follow an unconstitutional K-9 deployment policy.”
According to CSPD policy, a CSPD K-9 handler may send a K-9 to attack a subject who is actively resisting. This can include “racing, tensing, pushing, flailing arms, running away, or verbally signaling an intention to avoid or prevent being taken into or retained in custody.”
Shelton’s lawsuit states that such circumstances would only constitute minor use of force under the United States and Colorado constitutions. Shelton's complaint references other court cases that consider K-9 attacks as severe use of force and therefore shouldn’t be used for minor instances.
“CSPD’s choice to maintain an unconstitutional K-9 deployment policy, its choice to train its K-9 officers to follow this unconstitutional K-9 deployment policy, and its choice to maintain and train on the de facto practice described in the previous paragraph, has led to a pattern of excessive force by CSPD’s K-9 officers.”
Radke was disciplined with verbal counseling on the department’s K-9 policy because he didn’t tell Shelton he was going to release the dog. Radke remains a K-9 handler with the department.
The agency wouldn’t comment on the allegations against its K-9 policy and if it is considering any changes.
On Tuesday, the city council agreed to settle Shelton’s federal lawsuit for $175,000 of taxpayer money out of the claims reserve fund. But the rest of the agreement hasn’t been finalized yet, according to city officials.
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