I am currently in the middle of a report I am preparing for an agency I am defending in a civil lawsuit for an unintentional bite by a police dog. And, as I am preparing to explain “timing and distance” related to the difficulty in calling off the dog, I need to rely on some information that just hasn’t been provided adequately within all of the reports and depositions provided to me. So, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of some important things that should be done as part of your post-bite investigations that might assist your expert witness down the road should trouble come calling.
“Take photos of the scene” – the more photos, the better – particularly if landmarks (like cars, poles, fences, stairways, trees, ditches, etc.) will be referenced in the written report and are relevant. If you plan to document it in your report, try to take a photo of it. It may assist your expert witness down the road because there’s a great likelihood they will never see the area in person before they prepare their report. It may assist the jury to better understand these verbal descriptions that are being mentioned during testimony. If someone is concealed and you don’t see them prior to the deployment, take a photo of the area where they were concealed up close and from your deployment position because you are probably going to try to explain it in your report. If your incident occurs at night and photos are difficult to see because they are dark, take them at night anyway and come back during the daytime and take more photos of the same. In the case I’m currently working, no photos were taken the day of the incident where a parked car played an important role in that event – and it wasn’t there when they returned to take photos so “approximations” had to be given. (I later was able to view the scene firsthand with the handler prior to my testimony in the case.)
“Measure distances” between critical points that may include where the dog was standing before it proceeded toward a suspect. You may not think it’s important at the time – but you have to occasionally think “lawsuit” afterward and begin to prepare for your civil defense at that time. If you have the ability to measure, do it – but even estimates at the time are better than nothing when documented – and you don’t want to guess the distances four years from now. How far away was the suspect when the dog was deployed? How far away was the handler when she tried to call off the dog? How close was the handler when the dog bit the suspect? The depositions I’m currently reading have quite a bit of difference between the handler’s estimates and the Plaintiff’s estimates – and nobody bothered to measure – and it is a rather critical piece of information that is missing in my opinion for our defense for this particular case. Yes, I’m inclined to believe the handler and will use that information – but documented measurements would be beneficial to include for actual verification and confirmation.
“Draw a diagram” is a suggestion I give at each liability class I teach. Sometimes, you might need a little extra help to explain the narratives and photographs and distances and landmarks and a simple (or complex) diagram is the best way to assist your efforts. A rough sketch is better than nothing. During my time as the K9 supervisor, I called out the traffic investigator maybe three or four times to provide us with a good diagram of a K9 deployment scene because the scene was complicated to put into words – just in case!
I realize many of you are now wearing body worn cams and that footage can assist in scene recaps with narratives, but that footage should be considered as a means to supplement these other suggestions for memorializing the scene of an arrest or bite.
You might say these recommendations are ways to stay out of trouble – and you would be right. I do understand it’s difficult sometimes to make the decision on whether to measure distances or draw a diagram (because taking photos is a no-brainer) but it’s just part of the process you need to learn and you should make it a part of your written or mental checklist that you reference during your post-bite investigations.
Take care, be safe and make every day a training day….
Bill Lewis II
This “reason” was originally shared on July 27, 2016, as an article titled “Take photos, measure distances, and draw a diagram.”
“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions. A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.
These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes. As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?