Editor's Note: There are images and videos in this story with strong language or graphic content that is not bleeped or blurred. Audience discretion is advised.
This story is the latest installment in our YouTube series, "What's Brewing,” investigative reporter Jenna Bourne's series of deep dives. Click here to check out the series and subscribe to our YouTube channel: The Deeper Dive.
This is a story about police weapons with minds of their own.
10 Investigates uncovered cases across the country of police K-9s disobeying their handlers, with gruesome consequences.
They’re trained to bite people and let go on command, but we found these dogs don’t always follow orders.
They were bitten
“The public trusts us with these animals because we sell this product that says, these are highly trained dogs that will do anything we tell them. But if they don’t listen to us, well then, that’s actually not true,” said Dr. Charlie Mesloh, a leading police K-9 researcher.
No one knows just how often it’s happening because no one is tracking it.
And the dogs that disobey often wind up right back out in our communities.
'Bingo, down! No!':
The bite that sparked our nationwide investigation happened in Pinellas County, at the Waffle House parking lot in Largo.
It was caught on multiple deputies’ body cameras.
On March 3, 2021, Alan Martin was complying with Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
“Get on the ground, facedown,” a deputy shouted at Martin, after he got out of his truck.
“OK, OK,” said Martin, laying facedown, spread-eagle on the asphalt.
“Bingo, down! No!” K-9 handler Claudio Dimundo can be heard yelling in the body camera videos.
K-9 Bingo bit Martin on the head, disobeying his handler’s commands to stop.
Then the leg. Then the shoe.
“Damn it!” Dimundo shouted as he tried to get Bingo’s jaws off Martin, falling to the ground in the process.
“Why is he biting me? Why is he biting me?” Martin shouted. “I ain’t done nothing!”
K-9 handler Deputy Claudio Dimundo struggled to get Bingo to release the bite, ultimately forcing what’s called a break stick into the dog’s mouth and yanking off Martin’s sneaker.
Martin wasn’t even the guy they were there to arrest.
Deputies were after the passenger in Martin’s truck, after what they say was an undercover drug buy.
Martin’s lawyer told us his client didn’t want to talk, at this point, because he’s taking legal action.
“Well, it’s terrible. It’s a bad situation that shouldn’t have happened,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told 10 Investigates. “It was avoidable if Deputy Dimundo had the dog on a lead like he should have been and that’s really what it comes down to.”
Dimundo was ultimately disciplined with a written reprimand, which is how 10 Investigates found out this bite even happened – by looking through the agency’s disciplinary records.
K-9 Bingo stayed on the force.
10 Investigates reporter Jenna Bourne asked Gualtieri if people should feel safe with K-9 Bingo back out on the streets.
“Absolutely, because Deputy Dimundo got his act together,” said Gualtieri. “Don’t make it more than what it is.”
Bourne pointed out that the problem wasn’t just that the lead was not on the dog; the dog also wouldn’t release the bite.
“The dog is not a robot. The dog is not mechanical. The dog is a living being,” responded Gualtieri. “The dogs don’t always listen. They listen the majority of the time or we wouldn’t put them out there… But this is an anomaly. This is a one-off. You’re making this be, like, the situation. When’s the last time that this happened? This doesn’t happen that often.”
How common is this?:
It happens more often than you might think.
After reviewing the circumstances of dozens of bites around the country, 10 Investigates identified 16 bites from 2015 to 2021 that were the clearest examples of K-9s disobeying their handlers.
They happened in 14 cities, with three of them happening within minutes of each other in Huntsville, Alabama. You can check out the 14 cities below.
We’re talking about disobeying commands not to bite someone, refusing to let go of a bite, or both.
Keep in mind, these are just the cases we found out about. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive count.
That’s impossible because no one is collecting data on how often K-9s are disobeying their handlers during bites.
We’ve been finding these examples through court records and news reports, then putting in public records requests with law enforcement agencies for more info.
We got the vast majority of the body cam videos in this story from the people who were bitten and their lawyers.
Several agencies, like the Huntsville and Talladega Police Departments in Alabama, haven’t provided us a single public record or answered any of our questions.
On June 12, 2015, Ashley White was suspected of jumping out of the passenger seat of a speeding car and running.
Talladega Police K-9 Andor found White and bit her on the backside.
“Can you please get this dog off me?” White can be heard asking on the K-9 handler’s body camera recording.
“You are going to have to wait just a second, lady,” he replied.
“Sir, please!” said White.
“You shouldn’t have f***ing run,” the K-9 handler told her.
“Please, sir, I was scared!” said White.
After she was handcuffed, K-9 Andor’s handler pulled on his choke collar and gave him repeated commands to let go in Dutch, “los.”
Andor eventually let go, then bit White again, this time on the hand.
“Nope, nope, nope, nope. God damn it,” the K-9 handler said as White screamed.
Talladega police have not released any public records to 10 Tampa Bay or answered any of our questions, including whether K-9 Andor stayed on the force.
On Aug. 8, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama, body camera video shows K-9 Ronin bit an officer over his vest for 40 seconds, while his handler gave repeated commands of “no” and “out.”
“Hold on, I’ve got to choke him off,” K-9 Ronin’s handler told the other Huntsville Police officer.
K-9 Ronin bit a second officer in the groin for 30 seconds. Once again, the dog’s handler gave repeated commands to release and had to “choke him off.”
“Did you teach him to bite on the d***?” the officer asked K-9 Ronin’s handler.
“No,” he replied.
K-9 Ronin’s third bite was the shoulder of the intended target, George Matthews, who was suspected of stealing an SUV.
It took about 20 seconds of verbal commands and pulling on K-9 Ronin’s collar to release that bite.
Huntsville Police won’t confirm if K-9 Ronin stayed on the force, but in a deposition two years later, his handler said they were still working together.
The agency has not released any public records to 10 Tampa Bay or answered any of our questions.
On Sept. 23, 2017, St. Paul Police K-9 Gabe bit an innocent woman taking out her trash.
Police were in the area looking for a burglary suspect.
“We’re trying to get you out,” the officers can be heard telling Desiree Collins in body cam recordings.
K-9 Gabe ignored verbal commands to let go of Collins.
Collins’ lawsuit said his handler had to choke the dog off her arm.
It took 30 seconds to get him to release.
St. Paul police tell us the agency retired K-9 Gabe, transferred his handler out of the K-9 unit, and reformed its K-9 policies.
On Aug. 4, 2016, 18-year-old Wilde Decelien was suspected of being in a car that was reported stolen.
“Don’t run. I’m going to send the dog,” a Roswell police K-9 handler shouted at him.
The teen sat on a curb and put his hands up, then down.
K-9 Robbie’s handler later wrote in his report that his dog interpreted those movements as “unacceptable” and “furtive.”
“Stop! Off!” the handler shouted as he approached Decelien.
K-9 Robbie disobeyed those verbal commands and bit Decelien’s arm for 40 seconds, as his handler shouted commands to release, tried to choke the dog, and raised the power on his shock collar.
K-9 Robbie released, then bit Decelien’s hand for another eight seconds.
“God damn it,” the K-9 handler can be heard saying in his dash cam recording.
In all, K-9 Robbie ignored more than a dozen commands before trying to bite his handler.
The dog stayed on the force until he retired four years later, in April 2020, “as he neared the end of his service life,” according to the police department.
“I thought about my family. I thought about my kids,” said Nicole Edwards, a mom of three who was bitten by a Lake Charles Police K-9 on May 3, 2019.
Edwards walked away while officers were searching a car that she was a passenger in.
They used K-9 Bobby to find her.
K-9 Bobby’s handler gave nine verbal commands in Dutch to let go of Edwards’ leg – “los” – pulled up on his dog’s choke chain and hit him twice on the head.
It took 50 seconds to release the bite.
“Sir, please make him stop, please,” Edwards can be heard asking an assisting officer on body cam recordings.
“He’s doing what he can,” the officer replied.
K-9 Bobby’s handler later told Edwards’ lawyer during a deposition, “Do you see how chaotic that scene is? Do you know any dog that’s going to sit there, release and sit in a chaotic situation?”
“The dog, my [leg] meat was in his mouth. And I was like, is that my meat? And I was asking them, ‘Is that my meat?’ And I was like, ‘Get it and put it back.’ You know, I’ve seen in movies where they do the finger and, you know, freeze it. You know, I was serious, and they were like, ‘Yeah, you should have stayed still,’” Edwards told 10 Investigates. “I felt like I was a dog, too. I felt like I was treated like an animal, also.”
K-9 Bobby stayed on the force for another year before retirement, according to that same deposition.
Out of the 14 K-9s involved in the 16 bites 10 Investigates looked into, at least six stayed on the force.
Three were retired shortly after the bite.
For five of the dogs, their law enforcement agencies have ignored our questions about whether they stayed on the force.
Why do police dogs disobey?:
So, why do police K-9s sometimes disobey their handlers?
Experts tell us there is no simple answer; there a lot of factors.
First of all, like Sheriff Gualtieri was saying at the beginning of this story, these dogs have minds of their own, even if they’re well-trained.
“Everybody knows that animals are imperfect. Everybody knows that the K-9s are imperfect. And you can’t totally, 100 percent all the time control a living being,” said Gualtieri.
Born in Sarasota, Dr. Charlie Mesloh worked as a K-9 handler for nine years in Florida before he was hurt in the line of duty.
He went on to become a leading researcher on K-9 training.
He’s now a Criminal Justice professor at Northern Michigan University.
“Well, poor training is the simplest [answer]. Sometimes it’s a bad match between the handler and the dog,” said Dr. Mesloh.
Here in Florida, new canine teams must do 480 hours of training together to get certified.
To pass the apprehension part of certification, the state standard includes: “Using no more than four commands, the canine shall release the bite as commanded by the handler.”
But some states don’t have certification standards.
“I’m in Michigan. We have no regulations at all for our police dogs. None,” said Mesloh.
And there are no national requirements when it comes to regulating police K-9 use or certification.
“There’s national canine associations, and each of them, for their qualifications, have a standard,” said Mesloh.
For one of those organizations, the National Police Canine Association, their standards include that “the handler has forty five (45) seconds for the canine to release the bite using up to four (4) commands.”
And the conditions the dogs face during certification are different from the chaos out in the field, with flashing police lights, people shouting, and plenty of distractions.
“But that’s also how officers qualify with a firearm. It has nothing to do with what we actually do on the street,” said Dr. Mesloh. “The certification has virtually nothing to do with a real-life deployment. And, unfortunately, that’s how most certifications are…It’s just a metric that’s easy to measure.”
10 Investigates showed some of the body cam videos you just saw to Don Slavik, executive director of the U.S. Police Canine Association.
“The optics were definitely not good for law enforcement on those,” said Slavik.
According to Slavik, the USPCA is the biggest and oldest national certifying association for police K-9s.
He said he’s currently working with K-9 leaders across the country to identify best practices for K-9 units.
“There are three areas to start looking when something is happening that’s negatively affecting the K-9 program, and that would be the policy, the K-9 policy itself – the use of force policy. And then the next would be a supervisory issue and then the next would be training,” said Slavik. “So, there’s more than just ‘the dog is disobeying,’ as you say… Think about the tens of thousands of deployments done every year across the United States where we don’t have this problem.”
'Don’t try to incite a riot, OK?':
Jason Anglero-Wyrick said it’s past time to retire K-9 units.
On April 4, 2020, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office TASERed him, then released K-9 Vader on him, as his family watched and screamed.
“Face down! Put your face on the ground!” a deputy shouted at Anglero-Wyrick as K-9 Vader bit his leg.
“I can’t – the dog’s eating my leg!” said Anglero-Wyrick.
One deputy wrote in his report he heard the K-9 handler give six commands to release, “suelta.”
The handler reported he also tried pulling K-9 Vader’s collar and that the electronic collar may have been malfunctioning.
K-9 Vader is still on the force.
“The dog was eating me. It was licking my leg and swallowing pieces of my leg. It was eating me,” Anglero-Wyrick told 10 Investigates.
Deputies were at the home because a 911 caller reported Anglero-Wyrick threatened his family with a gun.
Twelve minutes after the bite, the accuser said he wasn’t sure if it was Anglero-Wyrick after all.
“At this time, the victims cannot identify who the suspects were or are,” deputies heard on their radios.
“I was hunted for sport. I wasn’t hunted to prevent crime. I wasn’t hunted to stop me or prevent me. I was hunted for sport because I looked a certain way. And they’ve been doing this for histories,” said Anglero-Wyrick.
His teen daughter recorded the bite on her cellphone.
“We can let you record it, just do us a favor and don’t try to incite a riot, OK?” one deputy can be heard telling her on body cam video.
“You guys are – this is disrespectful,” Anglero-Wyrick’s daughter told the deputy.
This happened the month before George Floyd’s death, which sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the world.
At least 11 of the 16 people bitten in the cases we looked into were Black.
K-9 bite injury photos
“It’s not like I was committing a crime or doing anything. I was literally just walking my dog,” Ayanna Brooks told 10 Tampa Bay.
On Dec. 3, 2018, Takoma Park police were in Ayanna Brooks’ neighborhood looking for people suspected of stealing a vehicle.
A police report says, “Despite commands: ‘No, Down, Here,’ K-9 Drogo ran towards” Brooks and her boyfriend, who were walking their husky.
Body cam video shows K-9 Drogo’s handler gave him multiple commands of “off” as the dog continued to bite Brooks’ leg.
Brooks’ finger was also injured as she tried to pry the dog’s mouth off.
“The handler was trying to get the dog to release, and things like that, and the dog never heeded any commands,” said Brooks.
Takoma Park police tell 10 Investigates that K-9 Drogo was taken off the force because his handler “retired” during the investigation into the bite.
Brooks says it’s time to start tracking how often police K-9s are disobeying their handlers during bites.
“I’m sure if we were able to get all of that data and look at it, we would see a clear pattern and a clear need for something to change. And that could be a part of why it’s not being done. Because when there’s no data or there’s no hardcore analysis of what’s going on, it’s easy to just kind of, like I said, kind of chalk it up to, ‘Oh, this is just a one-off thing.’ This doesn’t happen that often,’” said Brooks. “But when you look at the bigger picture of all of these police departments, then you can see a clear pattern with the dogs themselves.”
More stories from "What's Brewing?"