Judge grants summary judgment to Indianapolis in ‘horrendous’ police dog bite case

A lawsuit filed by an Indianapolis woman who suffered “horrendous” injuries after she was mistakenly mauled by a police dog will not proceed after a federal judge granted summary judgment to the city of Indianapolis and dismissed the remaining defendants from the case.

Indiana Southern District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted summary judgment to the city in Mara Manicini, et al. v. City of Indianapolis, et al., 1:16-cv-02048, on Friday. Pratt also dismissed 60 unknown defendants, Does 1-50 and Roe Corporations 1-10, because they were not identified within 120 days of the suit’s filing.

Mara Mancini filed her case against the city in July 2016, one year after police dog Scooter attacked her in her backyard, leaving her with an infection and injuries that required emergency surgery and forced her to go into labor one month early. Mancini’s child, K.C., was born addicted to the painkillers Mancini had been prescribed after the attack and is a named plaintiff in the case.

Scooter mistakenly mauled Mancini while he was pursuing another suspect, Dequarius Walker, who was attempting to evade Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, including Jon King and Greg Stewart. Walker tried to escape through Mancini’s yard, where Scooter followed him. Mancini’s dogs began barking at the commotion, prompting Mancini to come outside and check on her pets.

According to Pratt, King began yelling for Mancini to go back inside “simultaneously” with the beginning of Scooter’s attack. She was set free when Stewart, Scooter’s handler, grabbed the dog by his harness and pulled him off Mancini’s chest.

The city successfully defeated Mancini’s Fourth Amendment and Monell claims at the summary judgment phase, with Pratt first rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that Scooter was trained to bite the first person with whom he came into contact. Though the court agreed with Mancini that the dog was not being recalled at the time of the attack, it found that issue was not dispositive in light of the fact that Stewart did not direct any force at Mancini.

Relying on precedent from multiple courts, including Bublitz v. Cottey, 327 F.3d 485 (7th Cir. 2003) – which a magistrate judge also relied on when recommending dismissal of the case in January 2017 – Pratt determined that, “The undisputed evidence is that Mancini was not the intended object of the officers’ efforts to seize the fleeing suspect.

“Stewart’s release of Scooter, intending to seize the fleeing suspect does not mean that the officers intended to seize any other person – just as in Bublitz, the officer’s decision to set up a spike strip did not mean that the officer intended to seize just any driver that happened to drive by,” Pratt wrote.

Bublitz specifically rejected the broad reading of ‘intentionally applied’ advanced by Plaintiffs,” Pratt continued, referencing the standard set forth in Brower v. Cty. Of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593 (1989).

Further, because summary judgment was appropriate on Mancini’s Fourth Amendment claim, her Monell claim also failed, Pratt concluded. The judge also denied as moot the city’s motion to strike an expert witness.

“Mancini and her son K.C., suffered horrendous injuries and a grievous lack of discretion by the officers; however, a grievous lack of discretion does not suffice to state a constitutional cause of action under binding Seventh Circuit precedent,” Pratt wrote.

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