North Port, FL — Months after the Herald-Tribune exposed the North Port Police Department for routinely commanding their K-9 dogs to attack people without provocation, the department has done nothing to address the problem. In fact, it defends its officers even in the most egregious cases, including the mutilation of unarmed juveniles.
There is clearly a culture within the North Port PD that encourages and applauds this cowardly form of brutality, as revealed by messages sent between K-9 handlers involving the case of 18-year-old Jared Lemay.
Lemay’s mother had called the North Port PD when she learned that her son was apparently about to commit suicide. Keith Bush, the leader of their K-9 unit, responded to the scene, but not before telling a fellow K-9 handler to come join in the fun.
“On this day, before he or any other officer reached Jared Lemay’s home, Bush sent a message to fellow K-9 handler Michael Dietz: “COME GET UR BITE.”
Minutes later, records show, Bush messaged Dietz again: “IM GONNA TAKE UR BITE IF U DONT HURRY UP.”
Lemay, who was found unarmed and hiding in a trash can in his garage, was bitten in the face and back by Dietz’s dog, a Belgian Malinois named Cammo.”
After he was taken to the emergency room, another cop, William Carter, messaged Dietz “CONGRATS,” commending him for his dog’s first bite.
Another dialogue between Officers Bush and Brandon McHale further reveals the culture of brutality.
“YOUR BITE OR (Dietz’s)?” McHale inquired.
“I LET (Dietz) HAVE IT,” Bush replied.
“NICE, HOW BAD?” McHale asked.
“BAD,” Bush wrote. “FACE AND BACK.”
“SKIN GRAFT BAD?” McHale asked.
“NO,” Bush wrote.
“COULDA BEEN WORSE THEN, HE SHOULD HAVE COMPLIED,” McHale said, ending the conversation.”
According to Lemay, who was hiding in a trash can after contemplating suicide, the cops entered the garage, peeked inside the trash can and closed the lid, and then pushed it over and sicced the dog on Lemay before he could do or say anything. The Belgian Malinois latched onto Lemay’s face and dragged him from the trash can, and then bit him on the back before an officer stopped the attack.
As a result of this barbaric attack, Lemay could not eat for a week and is permanently scarred.
This premeditated attack on an unarmed, suicidal juvenile was approved by North Port police supervisors, and no investigation was done on the attack or the messages sent through the police cruisers’ mobile messaging system.
The Herald-Tribune found that “North Port’s K-9 handlers commanded their police dogs to attack more people from 2010 through 2014 than did the police K-9 handlers of neighboring municipalities Sarasota, Bradenton, Palmetto, Venice and Punta Gorda during the same period – combined.
Close to 37 percent of apprehensions made by the K-9 unit ended with a dog attack, which was higher than a 30 percent threshold that many American law enforcement agencies use to monitor their K-9 units’ performance for potential misconduct.”
In response to the paper’s investigation, the North Port PD quickly whipped up a “memorandum of counseling” (the least severe form of discipline) and gave it to Officer Bush, two years after the attack. It said Bush’s messages via the mobile digital terminal were “unprofessional,” but said the attack on Lemay was “found to be within policy.”
The department is unabashed in defending its K-9 culture of commanding their dogs to attack unarmed, defenseless citizens, saying:
“We have reviewed all current legal authority and have found our K-9 handlers and the animals which we rely on to keep our community safe, to have acted in accordance within the law and in keeping with best practices.”
Officer Bush, the North Port PD’s senior K-9 handler, has racked up what would be considered by his colleagues an admirable count of 25 dog bites since the start of 2012. Three civil rights lawsuits have been filed in federal court against the department, two involving Bush and his K-9. Lemay intends to file his own suit.
Charles Mesloh, a former K-9 handler for the Venice Police Department, called Bush’s messages to Dietz “horrifying” and said a serious investigation is warranted.
“This is people deciding in advance deciding how they’re going to hurt someone,” said Mesloh. “In my opinion it should be investigated by the Department of Justice. I have defended agencies accused of civil rights violations in the past, and I have never seen anything that has approached what I have seen in this report.”
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