Police dog bit an innocent bystander, sheriff’s office says. It was not the K9’s fault

Radio traffic: Deputies in pursuit of vehicle when K9 bit bystander

The Manatee County sheriff’s office deputy whose K9 bit an innocent bystander during the pursuit of a stolen vehicle suspect has been suspended for three weeks without pay for failing to maintain control of that K9.
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The Manatee County sheriff’s office deputy whose K9 bit an innocent bystander during the pursuit of a stolen vehicle suspect has been suspended for three weeks without pay for failing to maintain control of that K9.

When a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was pursuing three suspects seen bailing from a stolen SUV on June 3, his K9 showed signs that he lacked focus. But the deputy didn’t order the dog to retreat, according to an internal affairs investigation of the incident

As two innocent bystanders sat in the K9’s path, the deputy again did not order the dog to retreat. It was not until one of those women “was startled” and began screaming that the deputy shouted commands to the dog, ordering it back.

But it was too late.

The K9 bit the woman on the arm, an injury so severe that she was taken to a local hospital and received at least 30 stitches.

The internal affairs investigation concluded on June 25 that Deputy Austin Taylor failed to maintain control of K9 Niko, resulting in an innocent bystander being severely injured.

The woman’s reaction to Niko was the type K9 handlers are warned about in the sheriff’s office’s general orders.

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A Bradenton woman received more than 30 stitches after being bit by a K9 when a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy failed to control the dog, an internal affairs investigation concluded. Manatee County Sheriff's Office Provided photo

“All handlers shall remain alert and recognize that large dogs frighten some persons. This fear could lead to unusual behavior and cause a dog to believe the handler is threatened and react aggressively,” the general order states. “Dog handlers shall keep their dogs under total control at all times. This can be done by command or on-lead.”

As a result, two allegations of neglect of duty were sustained against Taylor, including failing to take his portable radio with him when he got out of his patrol vehicle.

Taylor was suspended for three weeks without pay. He was allowed to take half of that time from his banked vacation time.

Hired in December 2014, Taylor had never been disciplined before, according to sheriff’s office personnel records.

Taylor and Niko had been certified as a team less than three weeks before the incident. The team was still practicing scenarios and had worked their first on-duty shift together on May 26.

The day of the accidental bite marked the first time they were working alone, without another K9 deputy or a supervisor shadowing the team.

On the night of June 3, Taylor had pulled into the 7-Eleven on the northwest corner of First Street and 13th Avenue West in Bradenton and spotted a Ford Flex that had been reported stolen. When he pulled up behind the SUV, it took off.

Taylor followed the Ford Flex west on 13th Street West, ultimately ending up at a nearby dead-end road in the 1000 block of Fifth Street West. That’s where the driver and two passengers bailed out and took off running.

Taylor got out, leaving behind his portable radio, and released Niko. They pursued the suspects, who ran south on Fifth Street West, crossing over railroad tracks.

Niko hesitated at the tracks, however, and Taylor had to order him to jump the guard rail, according to the internal affairs report.

The pursuit continued as the driver and one of the passengers ran across an open field in the 1100 block of Fifth Street West in Bradenton. Professional Standards investigators said that Taylor should have noticed that Niko was not traveling the average speed of 30 mph that a K9 travels “when securely targeted in pursuit to apprehend a suspect” and put him back on-lead.

Taylor caught the driver, who jumped onto a van parked at a residence in the 1100 block of Fifth Street, and ordered him to show his hands and stay where he was. Niko continued after the passenger who ran around a home.

The deputy then saw the passenger run past two women who were sitting at a table, now in the K9’s path.

One woman began screaming and tipped over the table. That got Niko’s attention, and as he lunged at the woman, Taylor shouted commands for the K9 to retreat, causing the dog to back up. But when the woman put a chair between her and the dog, Niko latched onto her right arm.

Taylor forced Niko off the woman, getting scratched by the dog himself in the process.

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.