Robert Ray, a handyman, told NBC 4 News that an Anaheim police dog attacked him for a full minute, causing injuries that left him hospitalized for a week. The NBC report says Ray and the police department have different accounts of what led up to the encounter. While Ray says that he never saw the dog coming at him until the attack, police officers say the 50-year-old handyman received ample warning about the dog and that he ignored police officers’ orders to stop.
Officers were in the middle of a burglary investigation in an alley behind the North Anaheim Business Center when Ray apparently drove right into the scene. The incident has been recorded by a surveillance camera, but Anaheim police are not releasing the footage until after an internal investigation is completed. Ray was hospitalized with injuries and remained there for a week to get the treatment he needed. The investigation is ongoing.
Does Strict Liability Statute Apply?
Based on this news account, it does not appear that Robert Ray is a suspect in this case. It seems he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. California is one of many states with a “strict liability dog bite statute,” which means that dog owners are financially responsible for any injuries caused by their pets. However, police agencies are given immunity under the law when it comes to dog bite cases involving police dogs.
California Civil Code Section 3342 section (b) states that legal action may not be brought against any government agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite occurred when the dog was defending itself or if it was helping an officer apprehend or hold a suspect, investigate a possible crime, or execute a warrant. However, section (c) of that same code states that the agency will cease to have immunity in cases where the dog bite victim was not a participant or a suspect in a criminal incident. In addition, the immunity applies only in cases where a police agency has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog to conduct its business.
Potential Claim for Compensation
In this particular case, it remains to be seen if police officers actually believed Ray was a suspect at the time. The surveillance tape will be an extremely valuable piece of evidence in this case. If it is determined that Ray had nothing to do with the incident and was not a suspect at the time, then the strict liability statute could be applied in this case and Ray may be able to seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, cost of hospitalization, pain and suffering and emotional distress.