Man sues Punta Gorda Police for excessive force, department changes K-9 policy

Posted at 7:05 PM, Jun 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 10:06:20-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- A video of Punta Gorda Police officer releasing his K-9 on a someone is raising questions about whether it's an example of excessive force, Monday.

The dog, named Spirit, was ordered to attack a man when he stopped for a traffic stop on his  bicycle. Now that person is suing for his injuries. 
Dashcam footage shows an officer stopping a shirtless, shoeless man on a bike in October. Twenty-six-year-old Richard Schumacher lost some of the muscle under his arm during the arrest. Officer Lee Coel yelled "stop now, or I'll release the dog," and then sounded his sirens. He then told him to get on his knees.
Schumacher, who was drunk at the time, showed the officer his middle fingers before eventually getting on his knees. When he refused to get down on his face, the dog lunges toward him. Spirit then pulls at Schumacher's armpit for around two minutes. "Here's where the issue comes about," said Schumacher's attorney Scott Weinberg. "In the officer's report, he indicates that he engaged my client physically and then sicked the dog on him. If you listen to the video, you hear this beeping noise, and that's when the dog is released, that's when the dog attacks my client and that's when the officer physically engages my client."
K-9 Officer Spirit was suspended, but his human partner was not. The video exploded on social media over the weekend and people are calling for Coel to be fired. However, Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis tells me Officer Coel didn't break department policies. "Poor decision making in this particular instance did not warrant discipline. We provided the officer extra training, we switched trainers, and of course we restricted that policy to make sure that his decision making in the future is in accordance to the way we want to do business," said Chief Lewis. 
Since then, the chief called for an outside investigation by a K-9 expert, who determined that Coel performed the arrest according to his training, but Chief Lewis admits that the suspect was not physically aggressive. "There was some irrational behavior where he punches the ground with his bare fists, some profanity, but being physically aggressive at some point, I did not see that."
The department's policy has been changed so that K-9 officers won't be used in situations similar to Schumacher's arrest again. From now on, a K-9 cop can only be used if the handler is involved in physical combat. "I think he wasn't fully complying with the officer, but at no time was he a threat to that officer," said Weinberg.