From [HERE] White jurors didn’t buy the allegations of a Black man who accused a controversia, white Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy of allowing a police dog to attack him for an unreasonable length of time.
They found that Deputy Gerald “Jerry” Wengert did not use excessive force when his police dog partner at the time, Diesel, bit and held down a suspect during a November 2014 arrest in Tamarac. Jurors found Wengert’s actions were reasonable for a law enforcement officer and handler of the highly trained dog.
The jury in the civil lawsuit deliberated for four hours and 15 minutes before reaching their verdict on Thursday in federal court in Miami.
Wengert – a veteran deputy who featured with one of his former police dog partners in the reality TV show “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County” – is still facing other allegations of excessive force and one wrongful death in several unrelated cases. Jurors in the civil case were not told about the other complaints.
Reginald Chatman, 25, who is serving a state prison sentence for convictions related to the Nov. 10, 2014 incident, claimed he suffered leg injuries when Wengert’s dog, Diesel, bit him while he was hiding from deputies.
Chatman testified that he was coming down from a high after taking drugs when the incident unfolded. He said he thought he had smoked either a mix of cocaine and Ecstasy with marijuana or marijuana and flakka, a stimulant.
The case started out with a very minor offense but escalated.
Chatman and a friend admitted they stole $30 worth of cookies and milk from a CVS store at Commercial Boulevard and State Road 7. When deputies questioned them, Chatman ran off, pushing one of the deputies and causing him to bump into the other deputy.
Sheriff’s officials treated the incident as a felony battery on a law enforcement officer by a fleeing suspect who might have been armed. They dispatched several deputies and four police canine teams to the area and launched a helicopter to help with the search.
Wengert testified that he – and Diesel – did precisely what they were trained to do and that the dog has never disobeyed an order to release a suspect. The dog found Chatman hiding in a bush, bit his leg and held him until Chatman was handcuffed and Wengert told Diesel to release his bite.
“I would not change anything that I did that night,” Wengert testified.
Wengert’s attorney attacked Chatman’s testimony, reminding jurors that Chatman gave wildly different accounts of what happened in the years since the incident. Chatman testified at various points in the investigation that Diesel bit him for about 2 ½ minutes, seven or eight minutes, 20 minutes, or for 40 minutes, attorney Richard Woulfe said.
Witnesses, including a nurse who treated Chatman at a local hospital, classified the injury as “a minor dog bite.”
Chatman told the jury that Wengert made no effort to call the dog off, though he said he immediately surrendered when Diesel bit his leg. He said it felt like the biting went on for a long time.
“I was in a lot of pain and there was a lot going on. That’s what it felt like to me,” Chatman said.
Chatman’s attorney Michael Sloan, who handled the case for no fee under a court program that encourages lawyers to help low-income clients, told the jury the incident was “outrageous.”
The civil suit was focused on the very narrow issue of whether Wengert let the dog hold on to Chatman for too long. Both sides agreed Chatman was legally arrested and that the initial use of the dog to catch him was also lawful.
Jury foreman Arturo Alvarez told the Sun Sentinel that the eight-member jury gave Chatman’s claims serious consideration and treated his allegations as if they were “made by the Pope.” Alvarez, 69, of Coconut Grove, is a trial attorney who handles criminal defense and civil cases.
“After discussing everything, everybody on the jury was convinced that the evidence was lacking,” Alvarez said. “Nothing was brought to our attention that established the claim.”
Wengert, who testified that Diesel bit Chatman for no more than 10 seconds, said he was pleased.
“I’m very happy that the truth came out and that a jury of our peers saw the truth,” Wengert said.
Wengert is no longer a canine officer; he is assigned to regular road patrol in Cooper City with a basic salary of $75,673. He has worked in law enforcement since 1999 and has been a sheriff’s deputy since 2004. Diesel retired last year and lives with him.
In recent years, Wengert has been found not guilty after a criminal trial in an unrelated case, served two suspensions and has been cleared of wrongdoing in nine internal affairs investigations.
In 2012, he was charged in a criminal complaint by his own agency. He was suspended for more than a year before his trial on criminal charges that he beat a 17-year-old boy. A jury found him not guilty.
Wengert returned to work in September 2016 after a paid 15-month suspension when prosecutors declined to file criminal charges in the alleged beating of a suspect.
There are three civil lawsuits pending against Wengert in federal court — all alleging excessive force. One involves a wrongful death civil suit for an on-duty fatal shooting by Wengert in 2014. A Broward County grand jury ruled the shooting was a justified use of lethal force.
Broward state prosecutors are still conducting two criminal investigations of Wengert. One concerns his actions in the Chatman case. The other concerns allegations that Wengert and another deputy antagonized a police dog into attacking two men, suspected of painting graffiti, after they surrendered in January 2014.