Hamilton v. Williams (Fla. 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155546


Excessive Use of Force

LE went to subject’s house after a civilian claimed subject attacked him. Civilian had appropriate corresponding injuries. LE asked a PSD team to accompany them to talk to subject who had an extensive and violent criminal record. LE databases indicated that subject was a violent offender and possibly armed and dangerous. When LE arrived at subject’s residence, subject came outside to deal with his kenneled dogs. LE told subject to stop and to come towards them. LE announced themselves as police. Subject turned around and ran back into his residence. Handler kicked door open as subject was trying to close it. Another announcement was made including a PSD warning. Subject refused to obey and continued to walk further into the residence, shouting at LE. At that point, having considered subject’s criminal history and the fact that they were in an unsearched residence where subject had superior knowledge of the presence of possible weapons, handler released PSD who bit subject and took him to the ground. Subject fought with the PSD and did not comply with orders. Handler physically placed subject facedown and then released the PSD. Subject treated for bite wounds which were cleaned and steri-stripped. The court held:

“The use of the canine to subdue (subject) also was not an excessive use of force under the circumstances. Although the crime (subject) was being arrested for (simple battery) was not all that severe, the remaining Graham factors tilt in (handler’s) favor. (Subject) fled immediately when the officers announced themselves as police officers and actively resisted all (handler’s) commands to surrender. And as explained above, (subject’s) presence in an unsecured house endangered the safety of the officers on scene, especially when considering his violent criminal history. It was thus reasonable for (handler) to release the canine to neutralize quickly what he perceived to be a potential armed threat. This choice was the type of split-second decision officers are repeatedly confronted with in the field and that the Court in Graham warned against second-guessing. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97. Likewise, the Court will not second-guess (handler) here. See, e.g., Edwards v. Shanley, 666 F.3d 1289, 1295-97 (11th Cir. 2012) (finding officer’s “split-second” decision to release canine to track and initially subdue suspect fleeing on foot from scene of minor traffic offense was reasonable under the circumstances).”