In a federal excessive-force trial getting underway in San Francisco, Santa Rosa police are accused of trying to cover up mistakes by charging a K-9 dog bite victim with resisting arrest.
Kyle Biedma, 26, was bitten in front of his Saracen Road home in Santa Rosa in April 2013 after police mistook him for a suspected gang member they were searching for.
The Rancho Cotate High School graduate was charged with obstructing officers for not dropping to the ground when ordered to do so. He was acquitted by a Sonoma County jury after a short trial.
He sued the city and Officer Michael Clark, alleging negligence, false imprisonment, battery and violations of his constitutional rights.
His lawsuit accuses the department of charging him with the misdemeanor crime to protect the city from a costly injury claim. Under the law, a conviction would insulate officers and the department from civil liability.
“They made a mistake and were not willing to admit it,” said Biedma’s lawyer, Don Edgar.
Chief Hank Schreeder did not return calls seeking comment. Rob Jackson, the city’s attorney, denied Clark tried to ward off a lawsuit.
He said Clark, a 17-year veteran, wasn’t aware of the protection. He merely suggested the charge on the grounds that Biedma failed to comply with his orders, Jackson said.
The final decision belonged to the District Attorney’s Office, he said.
“The idea that he set about this course of action to protect himself simply isn’t true,” Jackson said. “I’m confident the jury will agree.”
Prosecutors are not named in the suit.
Critics said charging suspects with resisting arrest is a common tactic in an age of increasing scrutiny of police use of force. Statistics on the number of resisting arrest charges that have been overturned in Sonoma County were not available last week.
“It’s something that law enforcement reports on a frequent basis to justify whatever occurred on their part,” said Carole Hyams of the Santa Rosa-based Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline.
Biedma’s life was turned upside down when he walked outside his house late one night to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his car.
He stepped outside as police were converging on his neighborhood to look for a crime suspect they said fit his description. The man, identified as Eric Diaz, was suspected of evading police in a white BMW the day before hiding out in the area.
Officer Clark with his dog, a Belgian Malinois named Taz, confronted Biedma as the man walked through tall grass on the side of his house. He identified himself as an officer, illuminated himself with a flashlight and ordered Biedma to get on the ground, but the man kept walking, according to a police report.
Reportedly fearing for his safety, Clark released the dog, which bit Biedma’s arm as the man came within feet of the officer. Biedma was taken to a hospital with lacerations to his arm.
Police later sent a report to prosecutors, recommending the misdemeanor charge, accusing Biedma of behaving like he was going to attack the officer.
Several officers including Clark testified at trial.
Jurors returned a not guilty verdict after about an hour of deliberation.