Temple v. Cox (Georgia 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 208856

Excessive Use of Force; Qualified Immunity; Accidental Bite

During the execution of a search warrant, subject fled into the woods. Subject had been identified as a person who had sold controlled substances to a CI at this residence. PSD team immediately started tracking subject. Subject inadvertently ran toward another LE officer who detained him at gunpoint and handcuffed him. Handler then shouted to the arresting officer to watch out, and the arresting officer looked up to see PSD sprinting towards them, with his handler several yards behind. Arresting officer jumped out of the way of the oncoming PSD. Even though handler gave at least one recall command, PSD bit subject on the leg, resulting in a bad bite with chucks of flesh missing. Handler testified that PSD had a sudden burst of speed which broke his leash.

Subject sued for excessive use of force against handler and failure to intervene against arresting officer. The court analyzed whether qualified immunity would apply to either officer. AS to the handler, the court held that both prongs of the qualified immunity test had been satisfied. Handler was acting within the scope of his official duties while pursuing and apprehending subject and there was no clearly established right to be free from accidental application of force during arrest. The evidence showed that the leash broke and handler gave at least one recall command which the PSD ignored. As to the arresting officer, the court held the arresting officer had to be in a position to intervene. Here, even though the arresting officer was present, he was not a PSD handler and had no experience or knowledge to get the PSD to release, even though he was yelling at the handler to get the PSD to release. This indicated that the arresting officer took steps to intervene that were available to him. Therefore, qualified immunity applied to the arresting officer as well.