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The city of Tukwila has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a man who was bitten by a police dog, repeatedly punched and tased during a 2014 arrest after officers found a man yelling and dancing in a freight yard. The city has also agreed to pay Linson Tara’s attorney fees in an amount to be determined later by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour.
The lawsuit, in addition to alleging that officers Brent Frank and Mike Boehmer used excessive force, challenged the constitutionality of the city’s de-facto policy of allowing police dogs to bite suspects as a “pain compliance” technique. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the use of a K-9 bite is “the most severe force authorized short of deadly force.” Acting Deputy Chief Rick Mitchell declined to comment on the settlement when reached by phone on Friday.
The department’s attorney, Andrew Cooley, described the arrest as a “tense and rapidly evolving event, where the silent video captures only part of what happened.” Officers Frank and Boehmer responded the evening of Aug. 22, 2014, to a report of a man in the Tukwila UPS freight yard, “walking around, yelling and dancing,” according to a complaint filed in federal court.
They arrived to find Tara, who did not work there, being confronted by a number of employees. Police-dashcam video shows him standing with one hand on hip and the other held up, palm open. Frank, the K-9 officer whose dog, Ace, can be heard barking in the background, approaches Tara and tries to lead him toward the police cruiser. Boehmer approaches and Tara can be seen apparently trying to twist away from Frank’s grasp.
Frank then grabs him around the neck and forces him “over backward onto the hood of his patrol car,” according to the lawsuit. Boehmer is seen attempting to remove his Taser from his utility belt while Frank lifts Tara and slams him to the pavement. Frank is seen punching Tara in the face and head a half-dozen times. Boehmer, in the meantime, fires the Taser’s darts into Tara’s stomach from close range, and applies the weapon in contact stun-drive mode on Tara’s thigh.
Tara was rolled over, and the police dog is released remotely from its cage. Ace, a German or Malinois shepherd, is seen biting Tara in the buttocks and legs. Meantime, a third officer, identified in the lawsuit as Don Ames, arrives and places his knee on Tara’s head and handcuffs him. Afterward, the dog is pulled off the prone man and returned to his cage. Ames was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Ames rolls Tara over and looks at his face.
“On the video, it appears that Mr. Tara is unconscious,” the lawsuit says.
Tara was transported to a hospital, where he was treated for injuries that included dog bites. He was booked into jail and charged with three counts of fourth-degree assault. Those charges were later dismissed. According to the lawsuit, Frank wrote in his report that he deployed the dog “to assist in providing pain compliance” to subdue Tara. The lawsuit states that the department found the officers’ use of force, including the deployment of the police dog, to be within policy.
Tara’s attorney, Joseph R. Shaeffer, alleged that was an unconstitutional use of force and sought an injunction to stop the department from using dogs for that purpose. Some other departments limit the deployment of police dogs, recognizing the courts findings that dog bites are among the most severe uses of force. The canine policy of the Seattle Police Department, for example, states that dog handlers “will only allow their canines to physically engage or bite a suspect if there is a reasonable belief, or if it is known, that the suspect is armed with a weapon … capable of producing death or significant physical injury or otherwise poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the handler or others, or is engaged in active aggression or escaping.”
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