The Los Angeles Police Commission will conduct an inquiry into a graphic video showing a police dog attacking an unarmed car-theft suspect as officers looked on, the panel's president said Wednesday.
The tape, which aired nationally Tuesday on the CBS Evening News, includes an interview with an officer who says dogs are allowed to bite suspects as a reward for having completed a successful search.
Stanley K. Sheinbaum, president of the five-member Police Commission, said Wednesday that he had not seen the 1989 videotape, but would conduct at least a preliminary inquiry.
Police Department officials refused comment on the tape, referring all questions to the city attorney defending the department in lawsuits brought by people who have been bitten by police dogs.
Deputy City Atty. Mary Thornton House acknowledged that the dog attack shown on CBS "was not a pleasant scene." But she denied that police officers allow their dogs to bite suspects as a reward.
On the tape, Officer Dan Johnson of the K-9 unit says, "A patrol dog--his reward, of course, is to bite the suspect."
House said the officer was referring to military dogs that she said are used at Los Angeles International Airport.
"You will notice he said patrol dog and not search dog," said House. "We call our dogs search dogs."
Efforts to reach airport officials about House's assertion were unsuccessful late Wednesday.
House said there are about 45 dog-bite lawsuits pending against the city and the Los Angeles Police Department, including a class-action suit filed this summer by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations.
According to LAPD statistics, there have been about 900 attacks by police dogs in the last three years. By comparison, there were 20 bites during the same period by dogs used by the Philadelphia Police Department, a force that has twice as many dogs as the LAPD.
The videotape aired on CBS was shot by LAPD officers and the credits say it was produced by the department and Chief Daryl F. Gates.
House said the tape, called "Why Be a Cop," was done as a demonstration of the K-9 unit at work, and was meant to be aired on a public access cable television program called "The Sherry Herst Show ."
CBS in its report said the tape was intended for recruiting, but House denied that.
On the tape, a German shepherd dog is seen biting and tearing at the leg of a young man later identified as Drameco Kindle.
The dog had found Kindle hiding under a couch in a back yard in South-Central Los Angeles. House said he fit the description of a suspect who had jumped out of a stolen car.
After the dog alerted his handler that he had found Kindle, the handler, Sgt. Mark Mooring, and at least three other officers gathered around the couch.
On the tape, an officer is seen kicking the couch off Kindle, who without warning is attacked by the dog as he lies on the ground.
As Kindle leaps to his feet screaming, the dog latches on to his leg. The dog handler grabs Kindle by the shirt, and officers shout "Lie down!" and "Shut up!"
The youth pleads with them, repeatedly screaming, "Get the dog off!"
The dog handler pushes the suspect to the ground as the dog continued to bites Kindle.
Later, Mooring told the interviewer that the March 8, 1989, episode was "one of the greatest experiences ever."
Kindle, who is not a plaintiff in the dog-bite lawsuits, could not be reached for comment. House said she did not know if charges had been filed against him as a result of the incident.
The tape is owned by Nippon Television International. A Los Angeles lawyer for the firm said the tape had previously aired only in Japan.
A CBS producer obtained the tape from local civil rights lawyer Donald Cook, who subpoenaed it in August from Nippon. Cook specializes in police dog-bite cases and is one of several lawyers who this summer filed the class-action lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the LAPD has a pattern of turning its dogs loose on innocent bystanders and suspects who pose no threat. It also asserts that most of those bitten have been Latinos and African-Americans. Kindle is black.
House maintained that officers followed proper procedures in apprehending Kindle.
"I think you have to keep in mind that the suspect had fled from police, climbed over a fence and was in somebody else's back yard," she said, adding that Kindle had at one point kicked at the dog.
"If the suspect kicks out or is aggressive, the dog is permitted to protect himself or anyone around him," she said.