Dog-mauling case settled for $250K | News | Palo Alto Online |


Dog-mauling case settled for $250K

Independent police auditor says there is no investigation into incident

A teen who was mauled by a Palo Alto police dog during an unprovoked attack has received a $250,000 settlement from the city of Palo Alto, according to an agreement filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

The settlement was signed on March 29 by 18-year-old Tajae Murray and his mother, Alacia Hafner, and was approved by the court on Tuesday. The agreement, which released city from responsibility after payment was made, does not lay blame or admit wrongdoing by the city or its police officers, according to court documents. The City Council approved the settlement agreement on March 26 in closed session.

Hafner filed the lawsuit on her son's behalf on May 2, 2017, alleging civil rights violations. Murray, then 16, was bitten by the dog. The city had rejected a $500,000 claim.

Murray, who is African-American, was mauled by the dog on April 7, 2016, while officers stood by and watched, according to the civil complaint. He suffered cuts, lacerations and scrapes on his body and deep puncture wounds to his legs and hands. He has continued to experience pain and trauma as a result of the attack and injuries.

Despite the allegations, Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco said in an email there is no investigation into the incident.

"I have checked with my colleague and we have discerned that because there was no complaint to the PAPD and no resulting internal affairs investigation, the incident would not have fallen within our auditing criteria and thus was not forwarded to us for review. My understanding is that instead, a lawsuit was filed and the matter was resolved through the court process," he wrote.

The lawsuit was filed against the city, interim Police Chief Ron Watson, and officers Bradley Young, Marcus Barbour, Todd Whitehurst, Marianna Villaescusa, Khalil Tannous, Daniel Fino, Paul Burgio and Nicholas Enberg. It alleged Fourth Amendment violations for police use of excessive force and unlawful search and seizure. It also alleged violations of California civil rights laws against hate violence and guaranteeing protection from threats, intimidation, coercion and interference with an individual's constitutional rights. Other claims included assault; battery; false arrest and imprisonment; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; negligence; and violations of the state dog bite statute.

The city never filed a responsive brief contesting the allegations, according to court files.

Murray was walking or standing with friends at about 2 a.m. at the corner of Bryant Street and Bryant Court in Palo Alto when police arrived with their sirens on and stopped their squad cars at the two corners where the teens were located, according to the civil complaint. An officer allegedly pulled up to Murray with her gun drawn. Murray had his hands raised in the air, did not run and was compliant, the lawsuit claimed. He did not have any warrants and was not on probation or parole.

A police dog ran out of the back seat of an officer's vehicle and attacked Murray, according to the complaint. He was eventually taken to a hospital for treatment and was arrested, but no charges were filed. The complaint does not mention why he was arrested and police have said they could not release any information about the case.

The lawsuit maintained there was no reasonable suspicion that the teen had committed any crimes before he was detained and there was no probable cause to believe that he had committed any crimes before his arrest. There was also no good cause to exert force, much less the amount of force used against him.

Murray's attorney, David Helbraun, and Jon Heaberlin, an attorney for the city, did not return requests for comment on Thursday.

Police Capt. Zach Perron deferred comment to the City Attorney Molly Stump's office. Stump confirmed the city had agreed to the settlement. "The settlement is a compromise resolution that is in the interest of the City and the plaintiff," she said in a statement.


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3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 19, 2018 at 9:08 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by wmconlon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2018 at 12:49 pm

wmconlon is a registered user.

"Despite the allegations, Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco said in an email there is no investigation into the incident."

Incurious? Likely.
Incompetent? Potentially.
Independent? Definitely not.

A competent independent auditor would ask some questions:
1. How are police dogs to be deployed. For what purpose, when, under what conditions?
2. Are there policies and training guidelines in place?
3. Are these policies consistent with law, humanitarian practices, and the desires and expectations of the city and its residents?
4. Was the dog and the dog handler trained in accordance with policy and guidelines?
5. Did the dog and its handler respond according to the training and guidelines?
6. Do the guidelines or training need to be revised?

Note, that none of this is about assigning blame.

But what is apparent is that the so-called independent police auditor is not doing the job. To me, that means the City (Council and Manager) need to take corrective action to assess the guidelines for the auditor, the auditors policies, procedures and training, and review whether the auditor is performing in accordance with expectations.

In case there is any doubt, I think the auditor has failed us. I suspect (but do not know) that no audit was undertaken at the explicit direction of the City Management, in order to avoid identifying discoverable items that might have been used against the city. If my suspicions are correct, then I feel the City Council and Manager have failed us.

2 people like this
Posted by swuzy
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 20, 2018 at 3:45 pm

swuzy is a registered user.

I agree with WMColon's thoughtful, insightful and penetrating comments.

As a concerned resident, I would like to know of any remedial steps the city managers, the police department, and auditors have taken, and have committed to take to avoid and prevent such alarming uncitizenlike conduct ever again.

Where and what is the transparency and learning experience on this terrible perversion of simple decency?

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