A Spokane police dog mauled the arm of a 59-year-old man last week as he sat outside Playfair Race Track.
Jerry Hurtt of Seattle said he was sitting on a bucket Thursday evening, smoking a cigarette when he heard a “click, click, click” behind him and saw a German shepherd lunge at his left arm.
The dog, named Spike, tore into Hurtt’s leather coat and then his forearm before an officer called it off, according to Hurtt and police.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” said Hurtt, who remained in Sacred Heart Medical Center on Tuesday in satisfactory condition. “Beautiful dog. But his eyes were crazy.”
A doctor said Hurtt’s arm was badly injured and will need skin grafts.
Officer Charles Reisenauer frequently brings Spike to the area to run and relieve itself, police said.
“He normally does that in that area precisely because no one is out there,” said Police Chief Terry Mangan.
The police department is reviewing the case, although Mangan said initially there appears to be no violation of department policy.
Officers can unleash their dogs for a short break as long as they are in secluded areas, Mangan said.
Reisenauer was giving Spike a break about 7:45 p.m. Thursday in Playfair’s west parking lot.
The officer lost sight of Spike when he ran through a row of trees between the lot and a field, police said. Reisenauer heard moaning, then saw the dog dragging Hurtt on the ground and biting his arm.
Hurtt weighs 105 pounds, about the same as Spike.
He was poking at the dog with a pair of scissors, police said. He said he pulled the scissors out of his pocket to fight off the dog.
“I was stabbing him in the nose,” Hurtt said.
Mangan said he didn’t know if Spike was injured, but said the dog remained on the job this week.
Reisenauer commanded the dog to release the man, police said. He then put the dog in his patrol car and called for backup. Reisenauer and two other officers applied first aid to Hurtt’s arm.
Police are skeptical that the dog would bite Hurtt without some kind of provocation, such as a raised arm or startled jump.
“I cannot believe the guy was just sitting there and the dog bit him,” Mangan said. “The way the dogs are trained, they’d never just come up to somebody and bite them.”
Hurtt said he did nothing to incite the dog.
Police dogs are trained to attack on command, during a chase of an uncooperative suspect or if someone attacks their commanding officer, Mangan said.
When a crime has been committed and force can be justified, then dogs can be unleashed to search for suspects. In those cases, the dogs are permitted to bite, according to police department policy.
Three-year-old Spike was raised by the department as a puppy.
“He’s a real social friendly dog,” said Sgt. Ron Erickson, who heads the police canine unit. “He’s never demonstrated any aggression to people before.”
Spike lived with Erickson’s family for a year. He said he has young children and never had a problem.
In addition to treating Hurtt’s arm, doctors are testing him for tuberculosis.
Mangan said he learned Tuesday that four or five of his officers involved in the case will need to be tested for tuberculosis if Hurtt is diagnosed with the disease.
Hurtt has no medical insurance and the city will probably pay for at least some of his hospitalization, said City Attorney Rocco Treppiedi. A city adjustor has visited Hurtt.
Hurtt said he rode a bus to Spokane last Wednesday because his Seattle neighborhood was becoming too violent. He stayed at a downtown motel Wednesday night and had come to Playfair on Thursday to try to find work. It’s not horse racing season, and no one was there.
He was watching trains go by when Spike arrived.
“They’re supposed to not attack unless commanded,” Hurtt said. “That’s what I always thought.”
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