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Court Upholds Use of Police K-9 Force
Court Upholds Use of Police K-9 Force
by Karen Jeffrey

Yarmouth officer's use of dog to bite and hold suspect ruled
appropriate by U.S. appeals panel.

WEST YARMOUTH - A two-year legal battle over whether a Yarmouth police officer used excessive force when sending his dog after a fleeing suspect ended in victory yesterday for the officer.

A three-judge panel of the First U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that Officer Peter McClelland did not use undue force nor violate the civil rights of Jerome Jarrett in 1994, when his dog bit and held Jarrett during a foot chase.

"Shadow has been exonerated. I am happy beyond words," said McClelland yesterday afternoon when word of the decision reached him.

"Having this hang over my head all this time has not been easy. My whole career was put in doubt," he said.

"This decision will become the standard for all other decisions involving police canines," said Leonard Kesten, who represented McClelland and the town.

"It will become a sort of Miranda rights for police canines," Kesten said.

"There can be no doubt now that a canine is not deadly force, and that there are appropriate circumstances in which police can release a dog to bite and hold a suspect," he said.

Shadow, a Belgian Malinois, died earlier this year after serving the town of Yarmouth for nearly 14 years. He and McClelland won honors in regional, national and international competitions throughout his career.

Yesterday's decision represents the last of three cases brought against McClelland and the town as a result of Shadow biting suspects during police chases.

In the other cases - which were filed after Jarrett's initial victory - juries in U.S. District Court in Boston rejected arguments that McClelland erred in sending Shadow after fleeing suspects.

In all three cases, Shadow bit and held the suspects until McClelland ordered the dog to release them, as he was trained to do All three suspects received stitches as a result of the bites.

Shadow bit Jarrett in December 1994 during a police chase that began when police tried to pull him over for speeding on Route 28.

Police said Jarrett, who was also a suspect in an armed robbery case, admitted jumping out of the car and scaling a nearby fence to avoid police. He was later convicted of the armed robbery charge.

McClelland and Shadow were called to track Jarrett through a nearby residential neighborhood. McClelland unleashed Shadow after spotting Jarrett and shouting a warning to stop or have the dog released on him.

In June 2000, a jury in U.S. District Court in Boston awarded Jarrett legal fees plus $1 after finding use of the bite-and-hold technique, common among police dogs, was akin to deadly force. That jury also took the unusual step of writing a note to the Yarmouth police department recommending that its police dogs be trained to only bark at suspected criminals.

The appeals court decision, written by Judge Juan Turruellafound:

Other federal courts have ruled that use of a police dog does not constitute deadly force.

McClelland acted within departmental regulations concerning use of force in sending his dog after Jarrett.

Jarrett's original complaint against McClelland and Shadow should have been dismissed because McClelland was protected by "qualified immunity," which protects officials from civil damages as long as their actions don't violate established statutory or constitutional rights."

The appeals court took a further step in noting, "all the evidence supports the conclusion that Officer McClelland was exceptionally well-trained. The uncontradicted testimony was that Officer McClelland and Shadow were one the highest-rated K-9 teams in the nation. They had even been recognized internationally."

(Published: October 26, 2002)
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