Punta Gorda PD changes K-9 use after violent take-down

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla.- Police are changing the way they use canines after a violent arrest put a man in the hospital. WINK News is taking a closer look at what exactly is changing at the Punta Gorda Police Department.

Last October, K-9¬†Officer Lee Coel tried to pull over Richard Schumacher, 25, for not having lights on his bicycle at night. Dash cam video shows Schumacher briefly fleeing, then failing to comply with Officer Coel’s orders. Coel deployed his canine to apprehend Schumacher.

Schumacher was seriously injured after being bitten for nearly two minutes. He is now suing the city for excessive use of force.

Officer Coel was not disciplined, but following the incident PGPD decided canines can no longer be deployed when a suspect is displaying “active resistance”. Now suspects must display “aggressive resistance” — trying to physically attack the officer. PGPD also hired a new K-9 trainer.

Schumacher’s attorney, Scott Weinberg, says his client was being passive.

“My client was not threatening the officer, he was not approaching the officer,” Weinberg told WINK News.

“There’s no way to write every scenario, every situation into a policy,” said Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis. “You have to provide some type of discretion and latitude to your officers to make decisions in the heat of the moment.”

According to the PGPD handbook, “active resistance” is defined as the “use of physically evasive movements directed toward the officer such as bracing, tensing, pushing, or pulling to prevent the officer from establishing control over the subject.”

“Passive resistance” is defined as “verbal¬†and/or¬†physical refusal to comply¬†with an officer’s lawful direction causing the officer to use physical techniques to establish control.”

“It was passive resistance,”¬†Weinberg said. “He was on his knees at the time the dog was sent to attack him. That is crazy and it should not be allowed anywhere in America.”

“When (Schumacher) is ordered to get on the ground and in response to that he punches the (pavement), and then when he’s told to initially get down on his knees and he offers Officer Coel his middle fingers, that is active resistance,” said Chief Lewis.

No weapons were found on Schumacher, but police say he had alcohol and methamphetamine in his system.

Weinberg wants Officer Coel fired.

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