A legally blind, 5-year boy was bitten in the face by a police narcotics dog Tuesday evening just before a SouthPasadena Police Department canine demonstration at Orange Grove Park during the annual National Night Out event. He was treated and taken to Huntington Hospital. South Pasadena Police Chief Brian Solinsky told the South Pasadena News he’d reached out to the family Wednesday and was told the child was OK but shaken up, “which we can understand. My heart goes out to them. We’re grateful the child was not hurt” more severely. He called the incident a “tragic accident” and is “sorry that it happened.”
Solinsky said the incident took place after the dog’s handler, Officer Chris Perez, told the crowd to say back about 10 feet and began to prepare for the demonstration with Barry, one of two dogs that serve on the Department’s K-9 unit.
A Dutch Shepherd with seven years on the force, Barry is trained in drug detection. He is not an attack or patrol dog. A child approached asking to pet Barry, but was turned away. Perez also dismissed a group of children who also wanted to pet the animal, Solinsky said.
The 5-year-old moved away from his family and then “came through the crowd,” he explained. The child came to within five-to-eight feet of Barry, who then bit the boy on the cheek. Solinksy said Perez pulled the dog off the child, though witnesses said it took two people to pull the animal away.
Paramedics were on the scene and treated the boy who was taken to Huntington Hospital and given “one or two” stitches, Solinsky said.
Barry was neither leashed nor muzzled, and there was no second officer monitoring the situation, Solinsky confirmed. Asked if dogs in the park are required to be leashed, the Chief said that it would have been impractical, as Barry was about to be involved in a demonstration. He said there is no leash law for demonstrations; that the leash law is “different” for dogs during demonstrations. There is a policy for the “deployment” of police dogs, but demonstrations are not considered deployments. Rather, there is a “loose procedure” under which the officer is to use discretion based on an evaluation of the circumstances. Among most agencies, he said, it is a matter of “common sense.”
Solinsky said it is too early to say if the K-9 officer made an error, as there is an ongoing investigation, which includes searching for videos and photos. Nonetheless, he called it an “accident” adding the Department must determine “what else we could have done to prevent it.”
The Department is reevaluating its K-9 demonstrations and whether to adopt or amend policies and procedures. The demonstrations “have been a valuable tool for Department bridging gaps with kids and teenagers,” he noted. Barry has been in dozens of demonstrations over the years, and “there has never been an incident like this. But it does call into question our procedures.” He also said the Department is reconsidering whether to continue canine demonstrations at all. “I’d hate to lose that tool, but the first concern must be the safety of the community.”
Barry has been pulled off duty to be reevaluated by the city’s contract dog trainer, Solinsky said. He will be evaluated “for his suitability to return to service.”