A police dog bit an unarmed Texas woman for 62 seconds. A federal judge dismissed her excessive force lawsuit.
A federal judge ruled that it was not "inappropriate" for a police officer to use a patrol dog on an unarmed Texas woman who sustained serious injuries after the animal bit her for about 62 seconds, court documents show.
The decision, filed earlier this month in the US District Court in Houston and first reported by NBC News, dismissed an excessive force lawsuit filed in April 2020 over the July 5, 2018 incident in Conroe, north of Houston.
The encounter was captured in body camera video that showed the dog Thor repeatedly biting Olivia Sligh, 29, as his handler appeared to shout release orders that were not followed.
In an interview this week, Sligh said the incident left her with more than a dozen scars, herniated discs and questions about how officers responded to an 911 call from her boyfriend who reported she was having suicidal thoughts and had cut herself after switching medications.
"They should have treated me like a mentally ill person and not like I shot someone," she said. "This is how I feel treated."
Olivia Sligh is approached by police officers and a K-9 officer from the Conroe Police K-9. (Police Service Conroe)
Judge Charles Eskridge said the use of force was justified because Sligh defied Conroe Police Department K-9 officer Tyson Sutton and Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy Alexis Montes.
The decision states that she "attacked" Montes while he was trying to handcuff her.
"The officer's use of the dog in these circumstances cannot be described as unreasonable," Eskridge said. "Nor can it be said that his subsequent inability to immediately untie the dog somehow rendered its use unreasonable."
He added: "True, the time from bite to release was about sixty-two seconds, but that was amid Sligh's own ongoing struggles and multiple orders for the dog to release - with the first bite only occurring because Sligh himself refused to obey orders and physically resisted arrest.”
Sligh denied attacking Montes, telling NBC News, "I was pulling on my arms and wouldn't let him grab me."
Steven Selbe, an attorney for Sutton, welcomed the judge's decision, saying Eskridge "carefully reviewed the motions, viewed the video evidence available, and issued a thoughtful and well-reasoned opinion granting the motions for Officer Sutton's and the city's dismissal." became. We agree with his reasoning.”
The encounter happened in a wooded area, where Sligh fled after her partner, Johnathon Stapleton, tried to take her to hospital, according to the lawsuit. She told NBC News that she experienced a " downward spiral " after a psychiatrist prescribed her lithium for bipolar disorder.
Sligh said she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder a few years ago and the new drug "made me more depressed and upset," she said. "I scolded"
In body camera video provided by Sligh's attorney, an officer dispatched to find her can be heard saying Stapleton reported that she was also heavily drinking.
After stalking them for a few minutes, video shows Sutton, the K-9 officer, finding Sligh and saying, "Don't approach me, don't approach me. The dog will bite you.”
"You're chasing me, but don't approach you," she could be heard replying before adding an expletive.
Sligh appears to respond with another expletive after Montes orders her to put her hands behind her back.
"I haven't done anything," she is heard saying.
It's not clear if officers asked Sligh about her injury or her mental illness before ordering her to put her hands behind her back. Video does not appear to show them handling the matter and the judge's decision does not provide details. Slight said she doesn't remember officers asking about it.
Officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Selbe, Sutton's attorney, said in a statement, "It is both ironic and saddened that Deputy Montes and Officer Sutton attempted to assist the plaintiff and their actions resulted in an additional injury."
He added, "However, the video clearly contradicts the plaintiff's allegations of reckless, runaway officers and instead shows that they got it right."
As the encounter escalates, body cam video shows Sutton shining a flashlight on Sligh as she appears to struggle with the deputy. Moments later, Sutton is seen letting go of Thor and Sligh yells repeatedly.
"Take that dog from me," she can be heard yelling at one point.
Eventually, the dog releases its bite and officers tell Sligh to put her hands behind her back.
Slight was taken into custody according to the order. She told NBC News that no charges have been filed against her.
Olivia Sligh, boyfriend Johnathon Stapleton and their children. (Courtesy of Olivia Sligh)
A spokesman for the Conroe Police Department referred questions about the case to the city attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office also referred questions to the district attorney's office, which did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Ian Adams, a professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police dogs and the use of force, was unfamiliar with the case but reviewed the video and court documents for NBC News.
He said he understood why authorities might have wanted to act quickly and use a dog to search for Sligh as she had injured herself and was bleeding and it was not clear where she was.
Adams, however, wondered why the officer relied on what he described as "one of the highest levels of force that can be used."
"Why weren't other uses of force used?" he said, given that there was no evidence Sligh was armed. Adams also found the duration of Thor's bite "worrying".
"That's a long time for a dog to have a bite," he said. "Five or more handler clearance commands is excessive by any certification standard."
It is not clear who certifies Conroe police dogs or what the department's K-9 policies or standards are. A police spokesman declined to comment, citing the lawsuit.
Sligh's attorney, Randall Kallinen, appealed the case on August 11.
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