WASHINGTON — Two men who claimed their civil rights were violated after they were bitten by Santa Ana police dogs have lost a bid to have their cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court on Monday let stand without comment earlier rulings that the men had failed to prove the use of excessive force by the Santa Ana Police Department canine unit.
The news was applauded by attorneys who represented Santa Ana in the cases stemming from two unrelated 1991 incidents involving police dogs.
"We had always felt our officers had done the right thing under the circumstances," said David Lenhardt, a lawyer in Santa Ana, who represented Santa Ana police. The use of police dogs, he said, can offer law-enforcement officers an effective alternative to shooting.
"They save people from being shot. You can't recall a bullet, but you can recall a dog," he said.
Lawyers for the two men could not be reached Monday afternoon for comment on the high court action. The companion suits against Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and their police departments had failed in earlier rounds in U.S. District Court and in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
One suit arose from a June, 1991, incident in which Thomas K. Shannon, who was chased by Costa Mesa police after being spotted running red lights, attorneys said.
After Shannon fled on foot into a back yard and hid in the bushes, Santa Ana officers searched for him with a police dog named Rex.
Police issued a standard warning before setting Rex loose, and the dog bit Shannon in the right elbow, attorneys said.
Shannon wrestled with the dog, ignoring an officer's command to stop, and suffered a two-inch dog bite inside the right elbow, said Edward J. Cooper, Santa Ana city attorney.
In the second incident, Irvine police arrested Craig Brooks for auto theft after a crash and chase, and he was taken to Western Medical Center to be treated for injuries, attorneys said. After Brooks escaped from the X-ray department, the Santa Ana canine unit was called in to help find him.
This time too police issued a warning before searching the area with a police dog named Arco, attorneys said. The dog found Brooks and bit him on the upper thigh, and he suffered some puncture wounds that were less severe than Shannon's injuries, Lenhardt said.
The two dogs, both Belgian Malinois, have since died of natural causes, said Sgt. Doyle Smith, canine supervisor for the Santa Ana Police Department, which has a six-dog canine unit.
Smith called such dog bites uncommon, usually occurring when a suspect begins struggling with a police dog.
The two lawsuits did not have "any tremendous effect on our unit, on how we operated," Smith said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Police dogs are used only when a request is made to hunt for a suspect who has eluded normal police capture. Generally, they are used to search for felony or armed misdemeanor suspects.
Dogs are trained to obey both voice and hand signals. The basics:
* Down and stay
* Return to handler
When They Attack
The three conditions under which a police dog will attack:
* When ordered by handler
* When handler is threatened
* When dog is threatened
Sources: Times reports, Santa Ana Police Department and Orange County Sheriff's Department