CINCINNATI (AP) -- A 2008 civil-rights lawsuit is moving forward against a former Ohio police officer and his department over a police dog that bit multiple suspects with what attorneys say was potentially deadly force, even though they were posing no threat.
The 4-year-old case against the city of Springboro in southwestern Ohio, its police department, the police chief and former K9 Officer Nick Clark is now one step closer to reaching a jury after a federal appeals panel declined to dismiss the case.
In a 2-1 decision on Thursday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati wrote that a reasonable jury could find that Clark acted maliciously when he used his police dog, Spike, to track two separate suspects in unrelated cases, including an 18-year-old woman who had been caught drinking at a party.
Both instances led to serious bites, with the attorney for both suspects saying that they still have scars and walk with limps.
"They're lucky nobody was killed," Dayton attorney Douglas Brannon said. "(K9s) certainly can be deadly force."
Brannon represents Sam Campbell and Chelsie Gemperline, who were bitten by Spike. The dog was decommissioned the day after Gemperline was bitten.
Brannon alleges that Clark purposefully and maliciously deployed Spike against Campbell, Gemperline and others with the intention of injuring them, and that the department's chain of command -- all the way to the police chief -- acted with negligence and indifference in allowing Spike to continue working despite a string of bites and poor upkeep in his training.
Clark no longer works at Springboro police. His Cincinnati attorney, Wil Weisenfelder, said he has advised Clark not to speak publicly about the matter.
Weisenfelder said the allegations are unfounded.
"I believe in Officer Clark," he said. "He was a devoted, dedicated K9 officer and I don't think he did anything to abuse the privilege or the rank, and to suggest there were intentional acts of misconduct is erroneous."
Springboro police Chief Jeffrey Kruithoff, also named in the lawsuit, declined to say why Clark was fired from the department in 2009 but added that, "we fundamentally deny anything that the plaintiffs' attorneys allege."
Weisenfelder said he's looking at whether to request that the full 6th Circuit court consider the case or try to put it before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I don't know whether the issues might get the attention of the Supreme Court or not," he said.
but those are all options," he said. "We haven't decided anything."
Without an appeal, the case would proceed to a jury trial.
In Campbell's case, police were responding to a call about a possible burglary in October 2007 after neighbors heard Campbell pounding on his passed-out girlfriend's door after a night of drinking. He was trying to wake her up to give her keys, according to court records.
Spike bit Campbell in the leg for up to 45 seconds after finding him lying on the ground in the backyard, requiring 70 to 80 stitches in a procedure that later became infected and required further hospitalization, according to court records.
Campbell claims he made eye contact with Clark before the officer deployed the dog, while Clark said he didn't see Campbell until after Spike started biting him.
Gemperline, who was 18 at the time, ran from police in October 2008 after they caught her drinking at a party and hid in a children's playhouse in a backyard down the street. After Clark deployed Spike, the dog found her and bit her in the cheek and in the thigh all the way to the muscle, causing the screaming teen to go into shock, pass out and be hospitalized for a number of weeks, court records show.
Before the chase, a device in Clark's police car recorded him referring to the teen with an expletive and saying: "She's gonna get a nice rude awakening here in a second or two ... it's not gonna feel very good," court records say.
Campbell and Gemperline are seeking unspecified damages.
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