Union City to pay $50,000 to settle excessive force claim over police dog bite

UNION CITY — Union City will pay $50,000 to settle a claim of excessive force brought by Jermaine Clark, a man who was bit by a police dog after he ran from a car he was a passenger in that got pulled over by police, according to court documents and a city official.

The City Council held a closed session discussion about the case Tuesday night, and Kristopher Kokotaylo, the city attorney, told this news organization Wednesday the settlement agreement will likely be finalized soon.

Clark’s attorney Patrick Buelna accused Union City Police Officers Juan Moreno, Andrew Smith, and Matthew Blanchard, who handles a police dog, as well as Sgt. Czar Valdehueza, of excessive force, among other claims.

According to Buelna, Clark, an African American man, was a passenger in a car with three other African American people, when it was pulled over by Union City police officers on the night of May 17, 2019, near an apartment complex on Decoto Road.

Buelna said the police pulled the car over for having paper license plates, but Buelna claims that the stop was likely motivated by racial profiling.

“It felt like a pretense because the car was filled with African Americans,” Buelna said in an interview this week.

Clark and two other passengers got out of the car as it slowed down and began to pull over, and police ordered them back into the car, but the driver took off, and Clark and the other passengers ran away.

Clark hid in a closet inside an empty apartment, Buelna said, and police came into the apartment, eventually releasing a police dog into the closet.

“They open the door to that closet, and the dog goes inside of it, and (Clark) immediately comes out with the dog attached to his hand. He’s on the ground, saying ‘Get the dog off me, get the dog off me,’ three or four officers are in the room, and they jump on top of him,” Buelna said.

“He’s basically given up now and he’s surrendered, and our position is the officers let the dog continue to bite him even after it was clear he had given up and surrendered,” Buelna said.

Buelna said police claimed Clark was resisting by kicking the dog, “but he was just trying to get his foot out of the dog’s mouth,” Buelna said.

“It’s one of those orders where it’s impossible to comply with, but (police) use it as a basis to continue to use force,” Buelna said.

“Once he’s on the ground, and the dog has him, I think you take the dog off,” Buelna said.

Lt. Steve Mendez of the Union City Police Department said Wednesday he could not comment on the case until the settlement agreement is finalized.

City Councilman Jaime Patiño said Clark “brought this all on himself,” and he shouldn’t get any money out of the city over this incident.

“Had he complied with the officers’ requests from the get go, none of this would have happened. Don’t be crying later on when you get arrested or bit by a dog,” Patiño said in an interview Wednesday.

“You don’t have the right to just walk away from the officer when he tells you to stop. Take personal responsibility for your actions,” Patiño said.

He rejected the idea that Clark or others would have been treated differently by police because of their race.

“I’ve been stopped while Brown over here, I didn’t like it,” Patiño said, but added he still complied with officers.

He said if someone doesn’t like the way they are treated by a police officer, they should file a complaint afterwards.

But Buelna, Clark’s attorney, sees it differently.

“My client was unarmed. He did run away from the stop but he wasn’t suspected of any crimes,” he said.

He said the dog being allowed to bite Clark after he was giving up wouldn’t be allowed with any other kind of police use of force.

“If you have baton, are you allowed to just keep repeatedly beating a person while they’re putting their hands behind their back? No, of course not, because once they surrender, once they give up, you’re supposed to use only the force necessary to bring them into custody,” Buelna said.

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Author: Joseph Geha

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