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Police dog attacked man not involved in crime, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office says

A Humboldt County man who was bitten by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s K-9 during a carjacking investigation last month was not involved in the Cotati theft, authorities said this week.

Adam Gabriel, 40, of McKinleyville was bitten during a June 2 police investigation into the carjacking theft of a Jaguar convertible that was allegedly stolen while it was being taken for a test drive.

Footage of Gabriel’s encounter with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies, which was recorded by the deputies’ body cameras, was released Monday afternoon.

Authorities acknowledge, at the end of the footage, that investigators later found that Gabriel was not involved in the theft.

Gabriel’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, said on Tuesday that his client does plan to file a lawsuit alleging excessive use of force, but he could not say when that would be filed.

Schwaiger said Gabriel spent several days in a San Francisco hospital after suffering injuries that included three punctures to his bicep and a tear “that’s pretty significant.”

“Mentally, he is really, really shook up over what happened,” said Schwaiger, who represents clients in a number of matters involving area law enforcement.

One of those clients is a Graton man who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against two sheriff’s deputies and the county this year as a result of an April 2020 encounter in which he was shocked with a Taser and then bitten by a sheriff’s K-9 that continued to bite him even after he’d been handcuffed.

The dog’s handler was disciplined following an investigation that showed he failed to get his dog to release Jason Anglero-Wyrick.

Deputies approached Anglero-Wyrick after a Forestville man accused him of pointing a gun at him and his wife, but investigators later determined the allegations were baseless and that the Forestville man didn’t actually see the person responsible.

The total number of times a North Bay K-9 has bitten a subject wasn’t immediately clear, but an October 2020 investigation by the Indianapolis Star into the use of K-9s by law enforcement agencies, found that most major cities had at least one biting incident per year from 2017-19.

In turn, K-9s with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, during that same time frame, bit 243 people, the newspaper found.

The 2020 Graton incident factored into policy recommendations pertaining to the use of force and deescalation, which were submitted Monday by the Community Advisory Council, a board of Sonoma County citizens who engage and educate the public on Sheriff’s Office policies, procedures and training.

The CAC recommends K-9s perform a “find and bark” approach instead of the more violent “find and bite” practice. Furthermore, the council suggests dogs that fail to disengage and release a person should be relieved of duty.

Evan Zelic, CAC chairman, added, “Overall, our sheriff’s policy with K-9s needs to be changed or amended.”

Two Subarus and an incorrect witness

In last month’s incident, the K-9 bit Gabriel after sheriff’s deputies stopped him near Portal Street and Primero Court. Authorities said Gabriel was stopped because he was driving a Subaru similar to one the alleged suspect drove to the rendezvous with the Jaguar’s owner.

The victim of the carjacking was also at the scene where Gabriel had been stopped and told police that Gabriel’s Subaru was the same as the one driven by the suspect, who police later identified as Rajesh Suman, 35, of Antioch.

Suman was arrested shortly after midnight June 3.

According to written statements that appeared at the end of the body-camera footage authorities made public on Monday, deputies remained at the scene after Gabriel was attacked. They were waiting to tow Gabriel’s Subaru when the stolen Jaguar passed by the scene.

They followed the car, stopped it, and arrested Suman, who was detained without incident, authorities said.

Investigators, according to the video, later determined that Gabriel was not “associated with the carjacking.”

On Monday, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said further investigation determined that Suman drove a Subaru Forester, while Gabriel was in a Subaru Outback.

Last month, the Sheriff’s Office reported that Gabriel was uncooperative during the incident and refused to exit his vehicle after deputies stopped him.

He eventually did get out of the vehicle and continued to argue with authorities up until the K-9 was deployed and bit his bicep.

Valencia said a K-9’s deployment is an appropriate method of deescalating a situation, calling it “one of the safest ways to take a suspect into custody.”

‘...hands up doesn’t mean they’re complying’

The body-camera footage shows deputies surrounding Gabriel with their weapons drawn. They order him to step out of the vehicle as he demands to know what’s happening.

At one point, Gabriel gets out of his vehicle and walks toward deputies before dropping to his knees with his hands up. A deputy orders him to crawl toward them, but he remains on his knees and shouts inaudible words before the K-9 is deployed.

As deputies take him into custody, Gabriel can be heard repeatedly asking: “What crime have I committed?“

Then he adds: ”You’re taking my rights away! I’ve done nothing wrong! I have not committed any crime! I am a Marine Corp veteran and I have not committed a crime. Why are you doing this?”

He was later arrested on suspicion of delaying an investigation and Valencia said factors like Gabriel’s behavior and the armed carjacking created conditions that required K-9 deployment even though he was on his knees.

“Just because someone is on their knees with their hands up doesn’t mean they’re complying,” Valencia said.

Schwaiger disagreed and contends a K-9 never should have been deployed on Gabriel.

“Immediate, 100% compliance is not required to save yourself from police brutality,” he said. “I did not see him being a threat.”

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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