Police dog bites partially blind man at church hostel, leading to lawsuit

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A legally blind man says he received no verbal warning when a police dog burst into his kitchen at a church hostel and left him with multiple bite marks and a bruised tailbone. Now he’s suing the city.

According to the body camera footage, it appears the officers aren’t blaming him.

“It really hurts us. We had no intention of throwing a dog on a guy, giving him a fucking snack,” an officer said on his body camera.

Kyle Maxwell lives in the First Congregational Church hostel in Cooper-Young. Maxwell said he was blind in one eye and only had 10% vision in the other.

The hostel is in one of three buildings on site at the church which are connected by a keypad.

One night in January 2021, church staff called 911 about two men who were spotted on security camera breaking into a church building.

Staff at the scene had alerted officers that a man was staying in an apartment above the shrine. Maxwell lived in the inn, which is in a separate building to the north.

Body camera video shows officers entering the building with a K-9 unit and announcing themselves.

” Come here. We will free the dog. Get out!” they shout. The dog is then taken off the leash and begins leading the officers.

Minutes after the search began, they encountered the resident whose employees had initially tipped off officers. He was told to stay in his room.

Officers move north and hear footsteps. They are then seen outside the hostel, where they ask the dispatcher for the code to enter. The staff stayed in line with the dispatch.

The staffer later told MPD Internal Affairs, “I didn’t know where they were, and she asked me for a code.” She said the code is a general code that opens most keypad locks.

The officers don’t announce themselves when they enter the inn, and Maxwell says he had no idea what was going on. He didn’t know MPD was in the church and he didn’t hear them enter the inn. He was in the kitchen at the time.

“I was oblivious to everything that was going on,” Maxwell said. “I’m sure I was listening to a podcast.”

Body camera video shows the door open. The dog jumps on Maxwell and he falls to the ground repeatedly shouting, “Who is that?

“I didn’t know what was going on. I just know that several men are holding me down and a dog was biting me,” he said.

The officers told him to relax and ask him what he was doing here. Maxwell told officers the inn was where he lived.

“I was terrified. I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Maxwell is then handcuffed. Another tenant hears the din.

It was then that the police realized that the handcuffed man was not the one they were looking for.

Officers told Internal Affairs they had not received clear information. All they knew was that “no one was supposed to be inside the building except for one person on the third floor.”

“There was no reasonable basis for them to be in that part of the building in the posture they apparently were in,” Maxwell’s attorney Jake Brown said.

He also wonders why the officers didn’t make a clear verbal announcement when they entered the hostel, after using the keypad.

According to the canine unit trainer, they don’t have to. He told internal investigators that an ad “is encouraged with every building search” but there are times when you don’t want to “state your position”. He said they were also “encouraged” not to leash the dog during the search “as long as you know the building is secure”.

We sent Dan Maxwell, a former officer and current professor at the University of New Haven, images and internal affairs documents for his opinion.

“It’s almost like the perfect storm of some things that just didn’t connect,” he said. “The officers were already in a heightened state of awareness. This translates to the dog. Dogs are extremely attentive to the behavior of their masters.

We asked if there was anything to prevent such a situation.

“Trying to get better information before everyone comes in. Better information from the complainant, better information from the dispatch,” he said.

He also said more training always helps.

It’s unclear if anything changed after this incident, as Internal Affairs wrote only one officer for not wearing his body camera.

“It really changed my opinion of the Memphis Police Department,” Kyle Maxwell said.

Officers never found the thieves in the building that night.

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