After a family member found a noose hanging in the garage, the mother of an 18-year-old Florida teen called 911 to report that she was “concerned he may try to hurt himself.”
During the call, Jared Lemay’s worried mother told emergency dispatch workers that there were no weapons in the home. She also said she did not believe that he was using drugs or alcohol. She told dispatch that the teen was at home with his sister, who had discovered the noose.
This was all the information that police had available to them, as they were dispatched to the family home.
Yet text messages, recently made public by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, show that officers immediately planned to use the suicide call to get a canine handler his “first bite.”
Before he or any other officer arrived at Lemay’s home, North Port police officer Keith Bush sent a text to officer Michael Deitz, saying “COME GET UR BITE.”
Four minutes later, Bush sent a second text, which read “I’M GONNA TAKE YOUR BITE IF YOU DON’T HURRY UP.”
The officers were still not on the scene, when the second text was sent.
According to Lemay, realizing that the police were on their way, he ran into the garage and hid inside a trash can.
Lemay says that one of the officers lifted the lid of the trash can. Seeing him inside, he knocked the can over, sending the teen sprawling to the floor, still partly inside the can.
During an interview with the Herald-Tribune, Lemay described what happened next.
“I remember hitting the ground on my hands to brace myself from falling, and I looked up at them, and I went to say ‘OK, OK,’ and the guy sicced the dog on me as soon as I started to talk. I remember (the dog’s) mouth coming toward me and latching onto my face. He literally drug me out of the trash can.”
As the teen lay face down on the floor of the garage, the dog again sunk its teeth into his body, this time ripping into his back,
Photos taken by police following the brutal canine attack were published in the Herald-Tribune. One shows the massive injuries to the 18-year-old’s face.
A second photo shows the extent of the wounds to the teen’s back.
The Herald-Tribune also uncovered texts exchanged between members of the North Port canine team, following the attack on Lemay.
Officer William Carter congratulated Deitz on the dog’s first bite.
Another officer, Bandon McHale, called the attack “NICE,” asking “HOW BAD?”
Bush replied “BAD.” Adding in a fellow up text “FACE AND BACK.”
McHale then asked “SKIN GRAFT BAD?”
According to an in-depth report by the Herald-Tribune, the North Port canine unit has a bite ratio that far exceeds that of surrounding communities.
North Port police officer Keith Bush completed the requirements for becoming a canine handler four years ago.
As the chart above illustrates, prior to the arrival of canine officer Keith Bush, the bite ratio of the North Port canine unit was comparable to that of surrounding communities.
Since joining the team in 2011, officer Bush and his canine, Tomy, have been responsible for more than half of the recorded police canine attacks in North Port. Bush has been involved in at least 25 such attacks, to date.
In July of last year, a man identified by the Herald-Tribune as “Mark” was one of the growing number of victims of the North Port police canine unit.
Like Lemay, Mark wanted to kill himself. He had already slit his wrists when his mother called police for help. When learning that his mother had called the cops, Mark made his way into the backyard, where he eventually collapsed on the ground, under a bush.
“I had almost bled out. Pretty much I was dead when they found me,” Mark said during the interview. “And they still sicced the dog on me.”
Police reports confirm that Mark was unresponsive when officers arrived on the scene. In a report filed later, one officer described him as “laying passively on the ground.”
At officer Bush’s command, the canine attacked Mark’s limp and lifeless body, its teeth piercing his stomach. He had to be resuscitated twice, before being taken by helicopter to Blake Medical Center.
Mark’s dog bite wound later became infected, requiring major surgery. As a result, he spent more than a month in the hospital, and suffers chronic pain and debilitated health to this day.
According to the Herald-Tribune,
Bush reported Mark posed a danger because he was concealed by brush and would not comply with orders to show his hands. The officer wrote that commanding Tomy to attack was justified because it was unclear if Mark was armed.
But these are just two of the many cases in which unarmed citizens have been bitten by a North Port canine, and are now scarred for life.
Another victim, Bobby Shears, says he was passed out drunk when Bush unleashed the canine on him. According to medical reports, Shears was unresponsive and lying in a pint of blood, when paramedics arrived on the scene.
According to the report, Bush later paid a visit to Shears in the hospital.
He asked Shears if he wanted to know the name of the dog that bit him, and the wounded man said he begrudgingly agreed. Shears said the officer’s response distresses him to this day.
“He said, ‘The dog’s name was Tomy, and you’re lucky I didn’t let him go for your throat,’” Shears recalled Bush saying. “I will never forget that.”
Danielle Drake, a 20-year-old North Port resident says she was walking down the sidewalk when Bush’s dog Tomy attacked her from behind. According to police, Drake was suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run. She was never charged with a crime.
Drake says she didn’t even know what hit her when the dog attacked. “I didn’t hear anything, and then my head hit the pavement,” she said. “There was ringing in my head. My honest thought was that I was either shot or I cracked my head open.”
But then she realized she was being attacked by a dog.
Officer Bush later claimed that Drake ran head first into the dog.
The Herald-Tribune reports that after Drake was bitten, Bush’s team returned to the scene in an attempt to confiscate footage from a home security camera, but were unsuccessful.
Drake’s injuries required 34 stitches to the side of her face and head. According to physicians, the bite also impacted connective tissue in her face.
Police described her injuries as a “nip.”
Kyle Langston, the teenage son of a Florida Highway Patrol officer, was also attacked by Bush’s canine. According to a lawsuit filed by the high school student’s family, Bush allowed the dog to continue biting the unarmed teen for as long as five minutes, before calling it off.
Another bite victim, 44-year-old Kyle Crosby, describes Bush similarly refusing to call of the dog. He told the Herald-Tribune:
“I could hear him chewing stuff and swallowing stuff while I laid there.”
Several other victims shared their stories with the Herald Tribune, which published a series of articles on the North Port canine team called Scarred here.
An examination of more than 2,500 documents by the Sarasota news outlet reveals a host of discrepancies and reporting failures on the part of the North Port canine unit, now headed up by officer Bush himself.
The investigation revealed incomplete reports and incidents not reported at all, in violation of the department’s own stated policies. That includes three canine bites deemed “accidental” which were never officially documented.
According to experts, common practice among police departments includes keeping track of a canine team’s bite ratio. This allows police to monitor the unit for problems, including excessive force.
The North Port police department does not monitor the canine units bite ratio, per standard practice. The Herald Times attempted to determine the ratio, finding it to be significantly higher than the recommended number of less than 30 percent.
Between 2011 and 2013, Officer Bush’s bite ratio was 40 percent. In 2014, the officer’s bite ratio rose to 50 percent.
There are currently three lawsuits against the canine unit, two involving officer Bush. The family of Jared Lemay recently filed a notice with the city stating the intent to sue.
Officer Deitz, the cop who actually got “credit” for allowing his canine to maul the suicidal teen, was convicted of domestic battery against his former fiancee last year. Because of that conviction, he is no longer on the North Port police force.
Disturbingly, a series of internal police investigations found that the canine unit acted reasonably in every instance described above, as well as in all of the others detailed in the Herald Tribune’s report.
Since the release of the text messages the community has begun calling for a federal investigation into the actions of the North Port canine unit.
A former canine handler for the Venice Police Department. Charles Mesloh, now one of the nation’s leading researchers on canine use of force, described the text messages as “horrible,”saying,
“This is people deciding in advance deciding how they’re going to hurt someone. In my opinion it should be investigated by the Department of Justice. I have defended agencies accused of civil rights violations in the past, and I have never seen anything that has approached what I have seen in this report.”
Andrea Flynn Mogensen, chair of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s legal panel, also expressed concern, telling the Herald-Tribune that the messages show what appears to be a premeditated attack on Lemay by police and an excessive use of force.
*Featured image credit: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, via North Port Police Department