GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two of seven members of Gainesville’s police advisory council recommended unsuccessfully that the police department’s K9 unit be abolished, signaling ahead of an upcoming city commission meeting the level of community outrage over this summer’s mauling of a man who lost his eye after a traffic stop.
The police chief, Lonnie Scott, who attended Wednesday night’s meeting, did not respond to the idea. He was there to present a monthly crime report to the advisory council.
The Gainesville City Commission is expected to discuss the police K9 issues during a meeting at 5 p.m. Nov. 15. Separately, it is scheduled to hear a presentation Thursday night from police officials, its last meeting before Election Day when voters were electing a new mayor and at least three new commissioners out of six on the panel.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, advisory council members Kali Blount and Sheila Payne recommended abolishing the K9 unit. Payne noted that even other police officers were instructed to be careful around the dog in this summer’s incident, Ranger, because he might bite them, too.
Ranger had been temporarily removed from duty after community uproar over the arrest on July 10 of Terrell Bradley, 31, of Gainesville. Bradley lost his right eye after Ranger bit him while Bradley was hiding in bushes at an apartment complex. Ranger did not let go until his handler inserted a metal bar in the dog’s mouth to pry his jaw open.
Ranger was pulled from duty and underwent refresher training but was put back into service on Sept. 23, police said. That was the same day that Gainesville police announced minor disciplinary actions against five officers in the case. Two made inappropriate comments about Bradley’s injuries over the department’s internal messaging system and were suspended for 40 hours without pay and ordered to undergo additional training.
Payne said Ranger should not have been allowed back on the force and he isn’t capable of being retrained.
One of those two suspended officers, Andrew Milman, celebrated Bradley losing his eye and said chasing suspects made the job fun.
During a particularly tense moment at the advisory council meeting, Payne asked to have Chief Inspector Jaime Kurnick read the comments aloud, but council chairwoman Jeanna Mastrodicasa and other council members advised against it.
Bradley, convicted of unarmed robbery in 2010, had fled a traffic stop on foot after a brief conversation with an officer who pulled him over. After he fled, police found a stolen, loaded pistol wedged between the driver’s seat and center console and ammunition in the trunk.
After a 43-minute search that night that extended to the grounds of nearby apartments, Ranger growled and charged into bushes where Bradley was lying. Earlier in the search, Ranger’s handler, Cpl. Josh Meurer, warned his fellow officers that, “he doesn’t care, he’ll grab anybody.”
Meurer later told investigators he meant that, if Ranger was tracking a scent, he would not necessarily recognize a police uniform or discriminate between an officer and a suspect.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Kurnick said this is not a circumstance unique to Ranger, and that all police K9s will act similarly. Kurnick said Ranger had previously bit his handler.
Bradley is charged in the case with three felonies – possession of a firearm by a felon, carrying a concealed firearm and battery on a police officer – and a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer without violence. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have asked a judge in advance of Bradley’s trial to prohibit him from telling a jury that he lost his eye when Ranger bit him. They said it would be unfair to their case because it might create prejudice among jurors.
“Presenting testimony or argument in front of the jury about the injuries is irrelevant to prove or disprove the commission or any defense to the crimes charged,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also cited what they said was “emotionally charged and prejudicial publicity” in local news reports about the case, and they noted public protests outside police headquarters. They asked a judge to allow them to question prospective jurors individually ahead of the trial about their knowledge of the case or views toward police. They said asking potential jurors as a group about such issues would “preclude the candor and honesty” needed for a fair trial.
Former council chairman Fareed Johnson, who voted against the motion to abolish the K9 unit, said the council did not have enough information on K9s to make a recommendation. Johnson also said he wants to hear more from the community.
So far, police have publicly released a 15-page internal affairs investigation over the arrest, a 16-page incident report describing the events that night, body cam video showing the arrest and dog bite, a 12-page report on the case by an outside police consultant hired by the city, and a 19-page internal affairs report about the behavior of five officers in the case.
The case involving Bradley, who is Black, energized activists and civil rights protesters who already have a tense relationship with the police department in Gainesville over racial issues.
Studies have concluded that even when they are unarmed, Black defendants – especially teenagers – across the U.S. are far more likely to be bitten by police dogs than white defendants, and some Gainesville police K-9 handlers are accused in a pending federal lawsuit filed by a former colleague of making racially charged comments about how often their dogs have bitten Black defendants in the city’s minority neighborhoods.
The advisory council members were expected to attend the city commission meeting next month.
The council said any decision about the future of the police K9 unit was in the hands of Gainesville’s city manager, Cynthia Curry. Payne and Blount said they would prefer that Gainesville had a civilian review board that could impose enforceable decisions about the department on its own.
The Rev. Milford Griner, a former law enforcement officer who serves on the council, said the council members should present a unanimous front at next month’s commission meeting.
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