(Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC)
TALLADEGA, AL (WBRC) –
Three federal lawsuits alleging excessive force have been filed over incidents involving the Talladega Police Department’s K-9 division.
This, as the FBI wraps up its own investigation into the three incidents.
Canine handler Daniel Chesser, along with Police Chief Jason Busby and former mayor Larry Barton, have been named in the lawsuits, two of which were filed in March. A third was filed last November.
They come as city manager Patrick Bryant and Chief Busby met with a former Talladega City Council member, Joe Ballow, who had a list of grievances with the police department. Ballow had asked, among other things, about the fate of Chesser and his police dog, Andor.
Bryant said the FBI investigation had been concluded with no further action recommended. When WBRC last asked Bryant about this in January, Bryant said the FBI case was still pending at that time, so the probe evidently ended since then.
"Per advice from our legal counsel, I am not going to make any additional comment nor provide any additional information regarding the matter as long as there continues to be pending litigation," Bryant told WBRC by email Wednesday. He did, however, confirm the city would take a second look at the canine program when the lawsuits are disposed.
One of the lawsuits involves Ashley White, an Oxford resident who was one of the two people described in a WBRC story in July 2015. Her suit alleges what her father told us at the time: that in June 2014, she was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by police, and despite not being guilty of any crime, she ran from the police out of fear. She then tripped and fell.
Her lawsuit alleges Chesser then released Andor, who grabbed her between the legs with her teeth and held on, shaking his head for awhile. The suit alleges Chesser either didn’t or couldn’t, stop Andor during this incident.
The suit says White required extensive reconstructive surgery.
"The Talladega Police Department’s written policies and procedures required that canines only be deployed in those circumstances in which there was a felony suspect who represented a high risk of injury to the public, officers, or others," White’s lawsuit states, and the policies "required that canines only be deployed to apprehend fleeing felony suspects, hiding felony suspects, or concealed felony suspects."
Nevertheless, the lawsuit says the Talladega police had developed an informal policy allowing the dog to be deployed on even misdemeanor cases, "with few limits on the canine officer’s discretion."
White’s lawsuit also claims Chesser had received numerous similar complaints about excessive force with the dog, Andor, including recommendations for training and discipline by a sergeant who investigated the incidents, but Chesser was never disciplined.
White’s lawsuit alleges state assault and battery violations, as well as a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable use of force as well as rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Percy Garrett’s lawsuit stems from a July 2015 incident in which Chesser pulled Garrett over for having a taillight out. The suit says Chesser patted Garrett down and found nothing, but that Garrett refused to give permission for his pockets to be searched.
The suit alleges Chesser ordered Garrett down on the ground, and Garrett complied. Chesser then allegedly ordered Andor to attack, which the dog did for several minutes, biting Garrett on the right hamstring. Garrett ultimately required 24 stitches.
A third lawsuit filed by Crystal Houston involves an incident from November 2014, in which she was returning to her home in Talladega when she saw police lights behind her. She didn’t pull over, according to her lawsuit, but also didn’t accelerate or otherwise try to flee. She instead drove one more mile to her home so the officer could deal with her there.
The lawsuit says Officer Eric Dean, who is named in her lawsuit, was agitated when he arrived at her home. As she got her registration from behind a visor in her car and got out the car, Dean allegedly threw her on the ground and Chesser, who arrived at the same time, sicced Andor on her. The suit alleges the dog held on for some time, even after Chesser ordered Andor to let go. Houston was eventually hospitalized at Citizens Baptist in Talladega and faced DUI and other charges.
All three lawsuits are represented by attorney Alan Lasseter, and much of the language in the three lawsuits is identical.
WBRC has inquired for much of the last two years, since our initial story in July 2015, about the status of the cases, and whether Andor and Chesser were ever put on leave. To this day we’ve never been told whether they were, but the lawsuits allege despite
recommendations by an investigating sergeant that Chesser be disciplined and that he and Andor be re-trained, no disciplinary action was ever taken and he remains employed by the department to this day.
Talladega District Attorney Steve Giddens’ office investigated the case as well as the FBI. Giddens said as recently as January there was nothing new to report on his case. He did not respond to an email sent to him Wednesday.
FBI spokesman Paul Daymond referred WBRC to the federal attorney’s office on these cases, but WBRC hadn’t heard from them as this story was being written.
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