The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department misuses dogs to attack people--especially blacks and Latinos--who pose no threat to deputies.
The suit alleges that "hundreds of people" have been "viciously mauled and grievously injured" by dogs. It names the county, Sheriff Sherman Block and 25 other Sheriff's Department employees, and asks for unspecified damages and for injunctions barring the "unconstitutional" use of dogs against those who are not threatening others. Block and his department spokesmen had no immediate comment on the suit.
The suit closely parallels one filed by the ACLU and others last June against the Los Angeles Police Department. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, cites two victims, 16-year-old Samuel Silva Jr. and 18-year-old Rudy Becerra.
Silva's parents attended a news conference Thursday morning during which the ACLU screened a videotape said to show an LAPD dog attacking a screaming suspect who is begging officers to restrain the animal.
Silva's father, Samuel Silva Sr., said sheriff's deputies telephoned him last Dec. 11 to say his son had been injured and taken to a hospital in Palmdale.
The father said that when he got there, he was told that his son was one of several youths in a stolen vehicle that had been stopped by deputies. The father said that as deputies approached, the youths fled "and my son tried to hide behind a dumpster. . . .
"At that point they called in a K-9 unit," the elder Silva said. "My son . . . told me that he was standing there with his hands up . . . but at that point the dog was released on him. He was bitten on the right calf."