Gerson Delmas may have a case to pursue a personal injury claim against a pair of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputies after he was bitten by a K-9 while being taken into custody.
PBSO Conducting Internal Investigation Into Possible Excessive Use of Force
The investigation stems from the January 26, 2023 arrest of Gerson Delmas on an outstanding warrant for sexual battery. Confronted by Deputies near Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. and Southwest Seventh Street, Investigators say Delmas ignored several commands to place his feet in a PBSO vehicle, and at one point kicked Nuki, a PBSO K-9, in the head.
Arrest Report and Incident Video Seem to Tell Different Stories
The arrest report also states that Delmas “kicked and flailed” as he was removed from the vehicle by deputies and taken to the ground. A video taken by a bystander showed Delmas being bitten on the right leg by the K-9, as he lay on the ground handcuffed and shackled. Several people standing nearby were yelling to deputies that Delmas was not resisting, but the arrest report claims that he “violently resisted arrest,” kicking one deputy and head-butting another as they tried to secure him in a sheriff’s office vehicle. Both deputies involved in the incident are currently on paid administrative leave, according to PBSO spokesperson Teri Barbera. Their names were not released.
Belle Glade Mayor: Video “disturbing to the eyes”
Delmas, 30, was attacked by the K-9 for nearly a minute before the dog was pulled away by its handler. He was charged with battery on a law-enforcement officer, resisting arrest, and touching/striking a K-9. As of Monday, February 6, he remained in the county jail with bail set at $12,000 in the arrest case, and $25,000 for the sexual battery case. The Palm Beach County Public Defender’s office, who is representing Delmas, had no comment on the case.
When asked about the incident, Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson, a former prison administrator, said he had concerns regarding the deputies’ actions.
“It’s very disturbing to see someone that is in handcuffs and leg cuffs, and yet you see a dog that is attacking the young man like that. It’s disturbing. I worked in the prison system for 28 years, and one thing we never, never tolerated was you don’t use excessive force. You have to use force once in a while, but excessive force, no. People need to be held accountable for their actions.”
Stressing that Belle Glade has a “strong” working relationship with PBSO, Wilson still said that city residents are looking for answers. “All the community wants to know is why was the dog put on the young guy. That’s all they want to know and I’m sure that Sheriff (Ric) Bradshaw will get the answers for us.”
Can the Suspect of a Crime Sue for Injuries from a Police Dog Bite/Attack?
Suspects of a crime generally have to prove that law enforcement used unreasonable force when making their arrest in order to sue, and that includes if a K-9 was used to subdue the individual. In addition, a suspect would also have to prove that the police did not give him/her a reasonable amount of time to “surrender” peacefully. If the suspect can prove either of the following:
The police used unreasonable force in the arrest, OR
The police did not allow the suspect to surrender before being attacked
Although liability for police dogs varies from case to case, the law enforcement agency and the dog’s immediate handlers are the most likely targets for responsibility. Sometimes, other organizations are liable, like a city government that hires the police force.
It is important to consider that the police often have WIDE jurisdiction when it comes to the theory of “use of force.” This INCLUDES using K-9’s to bite/restrain those suspected of a crime. Because of this, legal protections have been put in place to guard against excessive use of force. The most well known of these may be the 4th Amendment to the Constitution which provides that ANYONE in the United States, citizen or not, has the constitutional right to be free from excessive force by police officers…and other law enforcement officials.
Filing a Claim Against the Police After the Dog Bite/Attack
Filing a civil suit against the government can ONLY occur after sending the government a tort claim. Once the claim is sent, the individual must wait for the government to respond before filing a lawsuit. In most cases, the claim will be rejected, though on rare occasions a request for compensation will be accepted. Victims can send these claims to the police department/municipality that is responsible for the police action.
Individuals guilty of a crime or who were the suspect of a crime at the time of the bite/attack may have a more difficult time pressing charges. Important factors in determining a case include:
The nature of the crime
Whether the individual/suspect was armed
Was the individual/suspect fleeing or resisting arrest
The severity of the bite/attack
The duration of the bite/attack
Whether law enforcement could have used less force
You have a right to civil treatment by law enforcement officers. Filing a suit against the police pits you against experienced attorneys in a municipal government, and poses a tough challenge, to say the least. So, if you are considering a dog bite/attack claim, don’t hesitate to contact GOLDLAW via the website or by calling 561-222-2222 for a FREE case evaluation!