Rally: Time to retire the GPD K-9 unit

by Sheila Payne and Bobby Mermer, PhD, 

Alachua County Labor Coalition

The Gainesville community has waited months after the mauling of resident Terrell Bradley to hear what the Gainesville Police Department and the Gainesville City Commission will do with the troubled GPD canine unit. Scheduled meetings for September and October were abruptly canceled. 

In the interim, a highly stylized video produced by GPD excusing away any inconsistencies between the initial and final amended arrest reports was released, leaning heavily on ‘procedures’ being followed. That propaganda video also assassinates Mr. Bradley’s character. The takeaway: any terribly unfortunate incident happening to someone police interact with is always the suspect’s fault, so long as procedures written and interpreted by the police are followed.

Everything that happened after GPD’s initial contact with Bradley was the rotten fruit of what Bradley’s family and community still feels was a racially profiled stop. After all, he was stopped for an alleged traffic violation (running a stop that did not exist) and Ofc. Milman escalated the encounter when he noticed “the smell of marijuana.”

Big fanfare followed GPD canine Ranger suspension — a dog known by his handler Cpl. Meurer and other officers as eager to indiscriminately bite anyone including his handler. Ranger has since been reinstated after “further training.” But you cannot retrain his level of aggression. It took two officers and a breaker bar to get the dog to release Mr. Bradley, and this was after he took out Mr. Bradley’s eye and caused extensive nerve damage to his arm. Police dogs should be under voice control, as GPD expects suspects to be.

GPD’s canine manual says: canine use is authorized to track for any felony which involves the use or threat of physical force … K-9 use of force on suspects should only be deployed when necessary and that officers “will utilize all reasonable means to affect apprehension without incurring a bite.” GPD is proud that only 11 percent of canine use results in a bite. If officers shot someone 11 percent of the times they are called out, those officers would not be on the force.

Two officers were suspended for taking and sharing photos of Mr. Bradley’s injuries. All five officers who passed around the photos rather than enter them into evidence (as required) lied and did not have the gumption to admit to GPD during the investigation that they distributed the photos. They then erased the photos from their phones. 

One officer stated, “the group believed that if they submitted the photo, it would be ‘incriminating.” Yet, they expect a Black man who told the police when asked why he ran that he was “afraid of getting killed” to comply with orders that seemed unreasonable and risky. As one officer said when Bradley screamed the dog was ripping his eye out, “Well, shouldn’t have run from the police.” Bradley’s response: “I ain’t doing s— wrong. People getting killed by polices, what the f— you mean I shouldn’t be running?”

When you read text exchanges between two officers, including Ofc. Milman, the officer who initially stopped Bradley, it becomes clear that some GPD officers think it is fun to terrorize Black men and women on ‘the East side.’ 

Milman described Bradley’s condition as “the nastiest thing ever – his eye was split open and just hanging outside of his face.” 

Shott (the other officer) replied, “I saw the pictures, BRAVO.” 

Milman: “Maybe if these stories get around criminals will stop running from me … That would take the fun out of this job … now that you’re back … im going out east.” 

Another Milman text: “Im driving out east right now, Im still down to have some fun tonight … on a scale of 1 to foot pursuit how bad do you want to chase someone today lol.” 

Milman and Shott explained their texting exchange as work banter.

Tellingly, Milman was the subject of three IA investigations this year. As with Ranger, no amount of “retraining” can rid a person of deep racism and subsequent racial profiling. Gainesville has a long history of police targeting Black people, including egging them from the back of a truck, just for fun. 

From the history of dogs being used by bounty hunters to capture and maul escaped enslaved persons, to the stark photos of police dogs on leashes attacking Black Civil Rights protestors in the 1960’s, to now when an officer releases his uncontrollable K-9 partner on a suspect, these scenes are all egregiously the same and cannot be tolerated. 

The symbolism of using dogs as a weapon of terror against Black people should be reason alone to eliminate the GPD K-9 unit.

Other cities and states have indefinitely suspended the use of K-9 programs after similar incidents of police dogs biting suspects who are on the ground. 

We demand that the city commission eliminate the canine unit at GPD.

The ACLC will be holding a rally to abolish GPD’s K-9 Unit at Gainesville City Hall Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 5pm. This is right before the Gainesville Commission holds a special meeting to discuss the unit.  Speakers will talk about why the police dogs have to go. Following the speeches, rally participants will march into the Commission Chamber to let them know the community wants the unit abolished.

Please join us and consider speaking during the special Commission meeting to demand an end to this barbaric unit.

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