SALT LAKE CITY — Body camera footage from a burglary on June 5, 2020 at 1:03 AM, depicts K-9 handler D. Clawson, instructing a police dog to bite a 14-year-old juvenile suspect, who stood atop a counter with his hands in the air. According to the footage summary, the teen was allegedly attempting arson in a Burger King.
The document of Clawson’s investigation emerged online on January 22, 2021 but was promptly removed, as the case was pending review for criminal charges by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Salt Lake Tribune reported.
This was one of 27 times a police dog bit a person since 2018, a “pattern of abuse of power” that led the department to suspend the use of K-9 dogs “indefinitely” in September 2020, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The K-9 officers who are under review have been on administrative leave since.
Following the internal review of the 27 cases — 18 of which were flagged as possibly criminal — Mayor Erin Mendenhall said that the city will enact policy changes to ensure that such use of brute force will be appropriately reported in the future.
“The culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate,” Mendenhall said. “We are here to tell you that this culture ends here and now.”
Although the officer later admitted his actions were unnecessary, the Salt Lake City’s Civilian Review Board recently ruled that Dawson’s K-9 order amounted to “excessive force.”
“Come out or I’m going to send the dog,” the footage shows Clawson shouting into the Burger King. “You will get bit.”
“Please,” the teen shouted back. “I’m a 14-year-old.”
“Come out or we’ll send the dog,” a faceless female officer reiterated to the suspect, as heard on the video. Shortly thereafter, Clawson orders the dog, Jaeger, into the premises to pursue the suspect.
The teen is heard shouting back to the police and the dog, as they approached him. Although his words were unintelligible, there was palpable panic in his voice.
“No,” he repeatedly implored the police as they inched closer.
Once he was in arm’s reach of the suspect, Clawson shoved the teen off the counter and pinned him on the floor by his head and shoulder. Once he incapacitated the suspect, the officer told the dog to strike, “Jaeger, hit!”
“Stop fighting the dog,” Dawson said to the suspect, who squirmed and struggled as the dog sunk its teeth into his leg.
Although he was immobilized, the suspect is heard releasing cries of agony as he was double teamed by the officer and his dog. The officers put handcuffs on him.
In an interview with investigators, Clawson justified his actions with the fact another officer, Miles Southworth, told him that the suspect wielded scissors. However, Southworth also told him that the teen had dropped the scissors before Clawson ordered Jaeger to pounce.
According to the report, “It wasn’t until the subject was placed into custody that [Clawson] noted the young age of the subject.”
Southworth said that ordering the dog to bite the suspect was a “really good option” because the teen was “aggressive.”
“Officers are also trained that a person armed with an edged weapon is responded to by a gun,” according to the report. “Off. Southworth was concerned that the subject’s actions could lead to a use of deadly force.”
The Civilian Review Board, however, disagreed and concluded that the use of force was excessive.
When the Salt Lake Tribune requested a statement from Rick Rasmussen, investigator of the Board, he declined to comment on the report of the investigation.
“The board will automatically receive all complaints of use of excessive force by police officers and an independent investigation will always be conducted,” according to the Civilian Review Board’s website.
The Board can make recommendations, however, the prerogative to take action belongs to the police department. It is unclear whether supervisors have disciplined Clawson, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
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