Local News

'We have a job to do': Wake sheriff defends use of K9 officers during arrests

Posted May 3, 2018 5:58 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:13 a.m. EDT

— The scars on 17-year-old Sade Tomlinson's legs show what a police K9 can do.

"It started attacking me, biting on my legs. I started fighting the dog," she said.

In August 2016, Tomlinson was with a group of teens who ran from a car after it crashed on Poole Road. A Wake County Sheriff's Office K9 was deployed to look for them.

K9 attack

"I stopped feeling my legs," she said. "I was just sitting there getting attacked by the dog. I just stopped fighting because there wasn't anything else I could do."

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said that in Tomlinson's case, the dog broke away from the handler and that the handler called the dog off immediately when he located him.

"We never want to hurt anybody, but we have a job to do," Harrison said. "And if we don't do our job, crime is going to escalate."

He said the dogs are ultimately under the control of their specific handlers.

"The K9 handler is the one who makes the decision when to deploy, should he deploy and how to deploy," Harrison said.

"The dog ripped off my pants, so I was out there with no pants on," Tomlinson said.

In a statement, the Wake County Sheriff's Office, explained that when Tomlinson and her friends ran from deputies, protocol called for the dogs to chase them.

"The K9 handler loudly gave the appropriate warnings for the suspects to surrender and they failed to comply. While the K9 was searching for the suspects, the K9's lead became entangled in briars and two logs that had fallen in a creek. The K9 was able to break free from the handler. Before the K9 could be caught, the K9 located the suspects and bit one of them, a juvenile suspect," the statement said.

Kyron Hinton had a similar encounter with a K9 on April 4.

Hinton claimed he was walking home from a sweepstakes parlor at about 10:20 p.m. on April 4 when he was approached by several officers.

According to an arrest warrant, Hinton was yelling in the roadway at North Raleigh Boulevard and Yonkers Road, implying he had a gun and pointing his hand in the air as if he had a firearm in it.

Hinton claims he was simply walking when officers surrounded him.

"While I'm walking, I was approached by an officer and, next thing you know, several more come up behind me and, at this point, I'm being punched," he said.

"I have maybe 20 bite marks from my arms, from my sides," Hinton said. "I also have lacerations on my head, arms and legs."

Hinton is charged with disorderly conduct, resisting a public officer and assault on a law enforcement animal. The SBI is reviewing the incident.

"I didn't injure anyone, not the dog or the police," Hinton said.

"If a person doesn't comply and he has been told to surrender, yes it could be dangerous because he will get bit or she will get bit," Harrison said.

In 2017, Wake K9s were used 1,001 times, in 300 of those cases they assisted other agencies, 65 were suspect searches and six suspects total were bitten.

Harrison stands by the use of K9s. He says they are a critical tool in searching for missing people, drugs and suspects.

"Their nose will let us know that the person is close by, it keeps an officer from getting hurt. They're invaluable," Harrison said.

But for Tomlinson, the experience has left her with permanent scars, both physical and emotional.

"I still have scars on my legs to this day. Everyday people ask me questions about what happened to my legs," she said.

She ended up being out of school for about two weeks, and then wore a boot for about a month.

The Wake County Sheriff's Office was contacted by an attorney on behalf of the juvenile who was bitten. The matter has been referred to Wake County Risk Management for claims processing.