Chad Boyles of Pierce County has agreed to a settlement of $225,000 for injuries inflicted when he was attacked by a Lakewood police dog in 2011.
Boyles sued the City of Lakewood in federal court requesting $3 million in damages; the case was expected to go to trial this summer. Under the settlement agreement, Lakewood and Pierce County admit no wrongdoing. Pierce County was involved because the Sheriff’s Office had requested the assistance of the Lakewood K-9 unit.
The attack occurred early on the morning of May 7, 2011, when Boyles went for a walk in his South Tacoma neighborhood. He said he was close to a nearby park when he “heard a huff and a puff” and saw a huge black dog lung at him. Boyles said the dog, later identified as “Astor,” chewed and ripped at his wrist and was trying to get a grip on his neck.
In his police report, Astor’s handler, Officer James Syler, said he called off Astor as soon as he realized Boyles wasn’t the man police were after. Syler and his dog had been called to assist Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies searching for a man wanted in connection with a domestic violence suspect. Boyles did not match the suspect’s description.
“This settlement will help Chad Boyles address his permanent injuries but it will not fix the larger problem of allowing K-9 dogs to act as both judge and jury in the field by biting suspects,” said Seattle attorney Steven Reich. “Until Washington law enforcement agencies implement safer tracking methods that do not involve biting, which are already widely adopted by federal agencies and jurisdictions around the country, we will continue to see life altering injuries to residents of our community, including innocent people like Chad Boyles,” Reich said.
Boyles was the fourth person in four years to file a complaint for damages alleging negligence due to injuries inflicted by Astor. One case led to a settlement for an undisclosed amount of money, while another was dismissed.
A third case went to trial and was resolved last December when a federal jury found that Officer Syler and Astor did not violate the civil rights of domestic violence suspect, Noel Saldana. Saldana’s leg was mangled during his arrest, leaving him permanently impaired. Saldana was never charged with a crime.
Before the Saldana complaint went to trial, a U.S. District Judge in Tacoma had ruled there was evidence to suggest that Syler had used excessive force when he deployed Astor.
Astor is no longer being used by the Lakewood Police Department. Last November, the dog was retired and sold as surplus property to Officer Syler.
Brent Champaco, a City of Lakewood spokesperson, declined to comment on the settlement, saying the case was handled by Pierce County because the Lakewood K-9 team was called in by Pierce County sheriff’s deputies to assist with their search.
“It was a county case and a county settlement,” Champaco said. “Officer Syler went to the hospital that night (of the attack) and personally apologized to Chad Boyles.“
Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Luna-Green said the settlement does not represent any admission of wrongdoing by Pierce County or the Lakewood Police Department.
Luna-Green said “what is reflected in this settlement is that it was an unfortunate accident, where Mr. Boyles was found hiding in the brush at the same time that police were in the area searching for a suspect. Officer Syler went to the hospital immediately and apologized.”
Luna-Green said she represented the City of Lakewood and Officer James Syler because Syler was called in with his dog to do a Pierce County track under the metro canine agreement.