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Contra Costa Dog Bite Victim Files Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit

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Treon Pique, 27, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that a Contra Costa Sheriff’s deputy instructed a police dog to attack him after he had surrendered. According to a September 26, 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pique is suing the county for $1 million for the dog attack. Court documents state that the police dog attacked Pique and bit him on his right arm leaving him with permanent injuries. The lawsuit alleges that Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy, Robert Jones, knew Pique posed no threat, but let the dog bite him anyway.

Normally in California a person bitten by a dog sues in state court under California’s Civil Code Section 3342 which provides in part: “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog….” However, the same civil code section exempts bites delivered by police dogs on criminal suspects from the codes strict liability provision.” The code provides that a person who has been attacked and bitten by a dog cannot establish a strict liability claim against a police agency if:

  1. The police agency had adopted a written policy regarding the use of a dog;
  2. The person was a party to, or a participant in, or a suspect in the commission of a crime or a possible crime; and
  3. If the bites occurred when an officer has a reasonable suspicion of the bitten person’s involvement in criminal activity, during the investigation of a crime or possible crime, during a stop or an arrest for a crime, or to protect the safety of the dog or a police officer or a bystander.

Therefore Pique is pursuing federal civil rights lawsuit rather than a California Civil Code Section 3342 lawsuit which pretty much gives police dogs free bites. All a police officer has to establish to free from liability under California law is that he was protecting himself or his dog when a suspect was attacked by a police dog to be free from the California “strict liability” law assuming all other conditions are meet.

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