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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Man bit by Spokane police dog in controversial 2019 arrest files excessive force lawsuit

UPDATED: Wed., April 14, 2021

This image, taken from Spokane police officer Scott Lesser’s body camera, shows the Feb. 12, 2019, arrest of Lucas Ellerman. Ellerman is suing the city and Officers Dan Lesser and Scott Lesser, alleging excessive use of force in his capture.  (Spokane Police Department)
This image, taken from Spokane police officer Scott Lesser’s body camera, shows the Feb. 12, 2019, arrest of Lucas Ellerman. Ellerman is suing the city and Officers Dan Lesser and Scott Lesser, alleging excessive use of force in his capture. (Spokane Police Department)

A man bitten by a Spokane police dog used by an officer who was later punished for violating department policy is suing the city alleging use of excessive force.

Lucas Ellerman, 30, filed an excessive force lawsuit in Spokane Superior Court against the city and Officers Dan Lesser and Scott Lesser. Ellerman, who led the two officers on a chase in February 2019 that ended in his violent and controversial arrest, is seeking more than $650,000 in damages, according to a tort claim filed with the city earlier this year.

Tort claims typically are the first step in initiating a lawsuit against a municipality.

“Defendants, and each of them, owed a duty to use ordinary care and avoid unreasonably escalating an encounter to the use of excessive force,” the lawsuit alleges.

Dan Lesser resigned from the K9 unit following the incident and eventually issued an apology for the language he used during the stop. Dan Lesser can be heard in body camera footage of the encounter telling Ellerman “I’m going to put a bullet in your brain” and repeating “I will (expletive) kill you.”

Dan Lesser called for his nephew, Scott Lesser, to retrieve his dog from his car after pinning the car Ellerman was driving against a snowbank. He then lifted the dog into the cab of the truck, and the dog bit Ellerman on command.

Ellerman also alleges Scott Lesser punched him in the head with excessive force, causing a cut above his right eyebrow. Dan Lesser told investigators the punches were necessary to achieve compliance, according to the Spokane Police Ombudsman review of the case.

Dan Lesser was reassigned to patrol after his resignation. He serves as a sergeant, department spokesman Sgt. Terry Preuninger said. Preuninger declined to comment on the case.

The incident became a point of contention between the Spokane Police Guild and the Office of the Police Ombudsman, which urged a formal investigation. Ombudsman Bart Logue’s review of the case later determined the officers endangered themselves and others by approaching the vehicle and hoisting the dog through the window, but the ombudsman is legally prohibited from recommending discipline or scrutinizing discipline decisions made by the police department.

Ellerman visited the hospital twice the day of the arrest for treatment of bite wounds to his lower left leg, according to the tort claim. He pleaded guilty to charges and was moved to the Washington Correction Center in Shelton in April 2019. Shortly thereafter, he again was taken to the hospital for treatment of an ongoing infection, according to the claim.

Ellerman is serving a 70-month sentence at Airway Heights Correctional Center after pleading guilty to drug, firearm and eluding police charges.

The excessive force lawsuit has been assigned to Spokane Superior Court Judge Michelle Szambelan. No hearing date had been scheduled as of Wednesday. Ellerman is represented by the firm Maxey Law Offices.

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