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EXCLUSIVE: Gainesville Police dogs violently injured Black people at more than double the national rate

Victims of violent attacks by Gainesville Police dogs were 85% Black.

 

Michael Zhang

Tech

On March 3, Gainesville City Manager Cynthia Curry announced the Gainesville Police Department’s K-9 unit would be temporarily shelved until further review.

The decision came as Gainesville considered upcoming budget cuts. However, after the mauling of Terell Bradley by Gainesville Police’s K-9 unit in 2022, hundreds of community members protested the department’s use of dogs in policing.

Protesters, over the past year, demanded reforms to the K-9 unit, questioning the safety of the dogs and calling out the department’s history of racist behavior.

The Daily Dot obtained records that reveal the stark racial disparity on display in the city’s K-9 units, which highlight how much more frequently Black victims are violently attacked by police dogs. 

In response to a FOIA request, the Gainesville Police provided the Daily Dot with the documents detailing training records and bite incidents involving the K-9 unit. 

In a report titled “K-9 Injury and Demographics,” which covers data from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2022, Gainesville Police reported that out of all injuries suffered in K-9 incidents, 85% of bite victims were Black, while only 13% were white.

Gainesville’s population is 21% Black.

That disproportionate data includes the violent and heavily scrutinized apprehension of Bradley, which was listed in the report as a “laceration puncture.”

To Bradley, it was anything but that. 

On June 10, 2022, Officer Andrew Milman reported pulling over Bradley for running a stop sign, although the Gainesville Police later verified that no such stop sign existed at the intersection. 

According to Bradley, after being ordered out of the vehicle, he accidentally elbowed Milman and ran, hiding in the bushes of a nearby apartment complex. Bradley said he was worried how other incidents with police had turned deadly, which prompted him to flee. Milman called for backup and Officer Josh Meurer brought his K-9, Ranger, with him.

After Ranger was let off leash, the dog bit into Bradley’s face, shaking back and forth, before ripping his eye out of the socket. Bradley lost vision in his right eye, broke two fingers, and needed 12 stitches on his right temple. 

In the wake of images of Bradley’s apprehension, citizens and community advocates throughout Gainesville gathered, calling for the entire unit to be abolished. 

Danielle Chanzes, Gainesville community advocate and member of Florida Prisoner Solidarity, described the community’s demands for reform to the Daily Dot. 

“We don’t want to see our community members brutalized, especially not by canines, not anymore … My prayer is that the city commissioners hear our cries, hear the community’s cries for help because ultimately this is an issue of public safety.“

Many within the Gainesville community called for the total abolishment of the K-9 unit. However, as of now the unit is only temporarily suspended, and both dogs and handlers still remain within the department 

Since 2017, according to the documents reviewed by the Daily Dot, there have been 57 other “laceration puncture” incidents involving the Gainesville K-9 unit. The true severity of these injuries is unknown, as the same anodyne language used for Bradley’s injury is used in the document. 

Other descriptions in the document involve “electrical shocks” and “abrasions.” 

All told the document details a total of 60 K-9 use-of-force incidents over six years, of which 52 involve Black victims. That percentage is much higher than some of the nation’s other worst offenders.

An examination by the Marshall Project found that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department uses K-9 units more frequently than any other department. Its bite victims were 55% Black, compared to 85% in Gainesville.

In the Gainesville data, just seven victims were white and one was Hispanic. 

According to a study published by the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, police dog bites sent 32,951 Americans to emergency rooms from 2005-2013, with almost all being male. Nationally, Black men represented 42% of bites, meaning Gainesville Police were way above the national average.

In a separate document reviewed by the Daily Dot, Gainesville Police averaged a bite-during-apprehension ratio of under 10% from 2018-2020. These percentages, the document claimed, were consistently below the national average of 40%, although the document did not cite any evidence for that number.

In a statement to the Daily Dot, the City of Gainesville said that the police department is currently “limiting its deployment. The K-9 unit is under review as [Gainseville Police] works to evaluate and update the program.”

The city also provide a statement from Police Chief Lonnie Scott, who said that “We are limiting use of our K-9 officers until we are more comfortable with our supervision and training. We also want to present our revised operating procedures to the public and give neighbors a chance to understand any changes planned for the unit.”

Christy Lopez, a legal professor at Georgetown University, who directly led the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, said the use of K-9s in suspect apprehension is inherently racist. 

“Not only are they [K9s] consistently used disproportionately against people of color, especially Black people, but I believe that the very fact that we have canines at all, is almost certainly linked to the disregard we have for the lives and the dignity of Black people,” Lopez said. “I don’t think that if we didn’t have that racialized history of policing, that we would be allowing dogs to attack human beings for minor violations.”

According to an investigation by VICE, the statistics reflected in the documents the Daily Dot obtained mirror similar concerns about the department. 

Former police officer and the Gainesville Police K-9 unit’s only Black officer, Edward Ratliff described how other officers would repeatedly make racist remarks within the department.

When the unit received news that one of the police dogs would have to be euthanized, unit supervisor Sergeant Charlie Owens said the K-9 “bit a lot of [N-word].” 

A lawsuit filed by Ratliff revealed similar racist communication within the unit. The lawsuit states that Ratliff’s superior officer and others regularly used the N-word in reference to other Black officers and citizens.

When a non-white officer was under internal investigation, one cop allegedly stated: “Sounds like there’s some [N-word] in the wood pile.” 

According to communications detailed in a Gainesville Police internal investigation, after Bradley’s apprehension, the officers within the K-9 unit texted one another and celebrated the violent act. 

“It was the nastiest thing ever his eye was split open and just hanging outside of his face,” Milman said in the text.

“I saw the pictures BRAVO,” Officer Matthew Shott replied.

The department gave Milman and Shott a five-day suspension each and diversity training. 

After the violent attack, the dog, Ranger, was put on a brief “administrative leave” but returned to the force earlier this January. The decision was protested by many within the Gainesville community. 

“The police department has repeatedly tried to argue that again this is something for public safety. And the community has repeatedly argued that those dogs, you can’t control what they do out in the field,” Chanzes said. “The community is not safe while they’re patrolling the streets.”

Even cops aren’t immune. On Feb. 20, 2022, the Gainesville K-9 unit responded to an armed robbery. The suspect was not captured in the original chase, as a dog bit an officer during the apprehension.

For years, civil rights advocates and academics throughout the nation advocated for the removal of dogs in suspect apprehension, believing they disproportionately inflict lifelong injuries upon people of color. 

Violent apprehensions that start from low-level offenses, such as in Terell Bradley’s case, are common nationwide. According to the Marshall Project, many people involved in K-9 bite incidents were unarmed and accused of non-violent crimes.

“People will say, Well, you know, we need K-9s because you know, people are robbing banks … but it’s never those things,” Lopez said. “It’s always these minor things and it’s always people of color.”

Correction: This piece originally misidentified the officer which released Ranger’s leash.

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