Man Attacked by Police Dog Says He’ll Sue
June 11 was a drunken day for Lornc Haywood. He consumed tequila and one beer after another in the cluttered back yard of a friend, finally falling into a queasy stupor behind the garage. When he awoke, he recalls, it was to the snapping jaws of a police dog sent in search of a fleeing suspect.
A few minutes later, Haywood, badly bitten and bleeding, was under arrest for car theft, assaulting the dog and resisting arrest. Now, nearly a month later, authorities have decided not to pursue any charges against Haywood, conceding that he is not the man they wanted that sunny Saturday afternoon after all. Police say another man has admitted the car theft.
Haywood, 27 and unemployed, vows to file a civil suit charging South Gate police with brutality and negligence. He says he was punched in the face several times by police and bitten over much of his body by the dog without provocation. Police, while concluding Haywood is not the thief they were pursuing, insist that the dog, named Cliff, and the two arresting officers acted appropriately.
“I still feel we acted properly within the guidelines of how the dogs are to be used,” Capt. Kenneth Powell said this week. In an interview last month, Powell said that to his knowledge, Haywood was struck only once, while struggling with an officer.
Haywood was bitten extensively, Powell added, because he kept fighting the dog. “The officers won’t call the dog off until the person stops kicking and screaming,” he said.
Several days after Haywood’s arrest, bruise marks remained under both eyes. About 23 stitches were scattered over his body. His lower legs were ringed with ugly bite marks.
Sitting in attorney Nick Vaters’ office last month, Haywood, a South Gate resident, gave the following account:
He wandered behind the garage when he became ill that afternoon after drinking with friends in the partially paved back yard on Pinehurst Avenue. Slumped on the ground, he dozed, held his head, and at one point vaguely remembered seeing a man vault over the rear wall.
“The next thing I know, I woke up and the dog is shredding me to pieces,” he said.
He said he grabbed the dog, a male German shepherd, by the jowls. The dog’s handler punched Haywood in the face and told him to let go. The dog continued to bite him even as he was being handcuffed. Once he was placed in the police car, he said he asked for an explanation and, in response, was struck at least twice.
Booked and Jailed
Treated at a Lynwood hospital, he was booked and jailed at the South Gate police station that night. He bailed himself out a few hours later.
The canine unit had been called to assist in a manhunt for the driver of a speeding car abandoned near Pinehurst. Two patrol cars had been in pursuit, but police say they never clearly saw the driver. They rounded a corner to find the empty vehicle rolling to a stop. Checking the car’s license number, patrolmen learned it had been stolen two days earlier.
Neighbors told them someone had run into the same fenced yard in which Haywood had been drinking. Only a few of the house’s occupants were home at the time and none knew Haywood was behind the garage, which had been converted into an apartment. Several of Haywood’s buddies had left earlier, they said in interviews last month.
Witnesses say police ordered the yard cleared. Jimmy Rachal, one of Haywood’s friends who lives in the garage apartment, says that when he returned to the house, he asked police if he could look for Haywood. Rachal said he was told the yard had already been checked. Cliff was unleashed.
The dog’s attack on Haywood was “one of those unfortunate things,” said Sgt. Russell Beecher, asserting that adequate warnings had been given before the dog was released. The two arresting officers, Greg Wells and Ken Eads, were not available for comment.
“I didn’t hear nothing,” said Haywood of the warnings.
While police initially said they had a witness who could place Haywood in the stolen car, Beecher, one of the investigators in the case, says that statement was apparently based on “misunderstanding or misinformation.”
“As far as I know, we don’t have anybody who can place Haywood in the car,” Beecher said this week.
Some of Haywood’s friends recalled seeing an acquaintance run through the yard before the police arrived. Beecher said he recently learned that the acquaintance was being held in jail on aggravated assault and armed robbery in another case.
With the understanding that the information could not be used against him, the man told Beecher that he had stolen the car, driven it that Saturday with a friend, abandoned it when the police pursued them and then fled into Rachal’s yard, the investigator said.
The man, who knows Haywood, also informed Beecher that he saw Haywood behind the garage, asked for help, realized Haywood was too dazed to respond, and then escaped over the back wall.
Haywood, the man added, was never in the stolen car.
Police decided not to press the theft charge against Haywood, but forwarded to the district attorney’s office the charges of assaulting the dog and resisting arrest. The office announced Friday it had “insufficient evidence” to file them. Deputy Dist. Atty. John Kildebeck declined to elaborate, saying only, “We’re not prosecuting him.”