Jury finds Lakewood officer did not violate man’s rights in K-9 arrest

The Seattle TimesDecember 20, 2013 

A federal jury has found that a Lakewood police officer and his K-9 partner did not violate the civil rights of a domestic-abuse suspect whose leg was mangled during his arrest.

The verdict came after an eight-day trial in Tacoma before U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton.

The judge earlier had found there was evidence that officer James Syler had used excessive force when he deployed his dog, Astor, to apprehend Noel Saldana after Saldana’s wife called the police in June 2010. Leighton also said a jury should consider whether the city of Lakewood should be held liable for not properly monitoring and training the dog team, because Astor had been involved in other serious bite incidents.

Saldana’s wife was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Saldana’s attorneys did not comment on Friday’s verdict.

The city earlier argued that Syler was responding to a report of a crime and, based on statement’s by Saldana’s wife, believed he had cause to arrest him.

In court documents and in an interview earlier this year, Noel Saldana, 27, admitted he was drunk when he went to his estranged wife’s house and forced his way in, wanting to say good night to his children. Saldana’s wife was not hurt, but she called the police after her husband left. Officers determined they had cause to arrest him for residential burglary.

Saldana said he was urinating in some bushes several blocks away when he heard a “loud voice telling me to get down.”

“I did exactly as I was told,” he said, but Astor tore into his leg.

Saldana was arrested on charges of felony burglary and was booked into jail after spending 10 days in the hospital. He was never charged with a crime.

In court pleadings, the city argued that the law allows officers to make “reasonable mistakes” that do not rise to the level of constitutional violations. During the trial, the city and Saldana filed a joint notice that Lakewood had paid $42,129.73 toward Saldana’s medical bills of $134,134.77, and that the hospital and providers consider the bill paid in full.

In seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed, Lakewood underscored the extensive training that Syler and Astor had completed — Syler is an assistant trainer for the Washington State Police Canine Association — and that every time the dog was used to apprehend a suspect, a report was written and reviewed by Syler’s supervisors.

Stewart Estes, one of the attorneys representing the city and Syler, said Friday that Astor was recently retired because of health issues.

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