A Colorado Springs man wanted for a nonviolent crime — stealing mail — is seeking unspecified damages from the city of Colorado Springs after police unleashed a K9 on him as he climbed out of the shower naked.
The dog bit his leg, causing severe injuries, "threatening a major artery and causing him massive blood loss," the federal lawsuit, filed in February, says. "He was immediately taken to the hospital and required multiple emergency surgeries."
Due to those injuries, the suit says, "His leg will never be the same."
Represented by Denver civil rights lawyer David Lane, John Mullins alleges the Colorado Springs Police Department used excessive force, which was "wildly unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances."
Officers named include Brian Kelly, the K9's handler, as well as Christopher Mace, Mark Neuenfeldt and up to five "John Does."
On Feb. 27, 2019, Springs police showed up at Mullins' house to arrest him for stealing mail. They told his mother and sister to exit the house without allowing them to tell Mullins the police had arrived, the lawsuit claims.
Police called out on the lower level of the home that they were there and would let a K9 unit go after him if he didn't surrender.
Problem is, according to the lawsuit, Mullins was in the shower upstairs and didn't hear the warning.
The dog immediately found him and attacked him.
"As Mr. Mullins screamed in pain on the floor of the bathroom, Defendant Kelly did not immediately order the canine to stop biting him," the lawsuit says. "This delay of approximately 20-25 seconds needlessly and unreasonably prolonged Mr. Mullins’ excruciating pain and may have exacerbated his already severe injury."
Moreover, the lawsuit alleges, "Defendants’ treatment of Mr. Mullins was pursuant to Defendant Colorado Springs’ customs, practices, and training regarding the use of a police canine in situations where officers have no reason to believe that a suspect poses any threat."
A CSPD policy that requires officers to believe a suspect poses a threat based on criminal history or observed aggressive actions "exists only to provide a false sheen of constitutionality to its operations," the lawsuit contends.
Thus, the lawsuit says, it's clear the department has "utterly failed to train its officers on the use of a canine, while protecting the Fourth Amendment rights of suspects" and because no officers were disciplined in the incident, the CSPD sends a message to officers that constitutional violations are acceptable and an approved practice.
Lane tells the Indy in an email Mullins pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing mail and is serving a sentence in the state prison system.
"It is appalling that the police feel that they can unleash a vicious dog on a non-violent man who was in the shower when the police were calling to him to come out, and he simply didn’t hear them," Lane says. "It appears as the unleashing the dog was some sort of training exercise to show a young cop how to handle a dog. There was no justification for almost killing a man over stolen mail."
The case was previously reported by several television stations, including 9News, which obtained the body-worn camera footage, showing officers stood by and allowed the dog to continue attacking Mullins after they saw he was naked and writhing on the floor.
The CSPD didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but the department typically does not comment on pending litigation.
City Council will receive a recommendation on Monday, June 21, that the city represent the officers, who the City Attorney's Office says "were acting in the course and scope of their employment and were acting in good faith."
The case could be cited in a list of excessive force claims sought by the city's Law Enforcement Transparency & Accountability Commission, which we wrote about in this week's Indy.
For information about CSPD's use-of-force reports, go to this link.
Since the case was filed, the city has settled three others, paying a total of $112,000 — one of which alleged police used excessive force.
- Kelvin Tivis was attacked by police in March 2017 after he called for police help but didn't require any by the time police showed up. Tivis told police they were no longer needed, but they pushed their way into his home, despite his repeated requests they leave. Officers then tackled Tivis and tased him "almost half a dozen times," the lawsuit, filed in 2019, said. He suffered multiple injuries, including nerve damage to his wrists where handcuffs were applied too tightly. Tivis was never charged with a crime. The lawsuit alleged the CSPD has shown a pattern of using excessive force. The city concluded the officers acted properly. The city paid $42,500 to settle the case in April.
- Trevor Young filed suit in 2019 regarding a motor vehicle/pedestrian crash. Police Officer Dylan Peters was named as a defendant. The city paid $30,000 in April.
- An insurance company sued the city in 2020 regarding a traffic crash involving Colorado Springs Utilities employee Douglas Lyons. The city settled the case for $8,000 in April.
- Mary Masters alleged Springs Utilities failed to maintain its water lines to and around her home, which led to flooding. Utilities paid $31,500 to settle the case in February. A similar case ended with the city paying nothing.