Police defend handler after dog attack

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:15 20/11/2013
Kyle McArtney
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
INJURED: Kyle McArtney is recovering after being bitten by a police dog on Sunday night.

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A Nelson man has 16 stitches to his leg after being bitten by a police dog released by its handler.

Tasman police district commander Superintendent Richard Chambers says he is confident the right decisions were made and is referring the issues to Independent Police Conduct Authority.

It is the second case in the public spotlight after a member of the public has been attacked by a police dog.

Auckland businessman Hamish McCourtie has been through a three-year battle to hold police to account for a police dog attack in his own driveway, suffering severe injuries after he went to investigate a noise outside thinking it was a car crash.

Nelson man Kyle McArtney said he was busting to go to the toilet and running toward bushes by Trafalgar Park when a police dog attacked him at midnight on Sunday.

He said its handler had to choke the dog to get it off him because it did not respond to the handler's commands.

"I just think the dog and his handler should have to do a bit more training," he said. "If you are going to control a dog to attack, you have to be able to stop it attacking."

Chambers said police were responding to a report from a woman of an intruder in her home at Hathaway Court, and when a police dog was following a scent and a man was seen running, the handler released the dog.

A teenage girl has since been charged with burglary and unlawfully taking a vehicle and the police investigation is continuing.

McArtney has been in pain and finding it hard to walk on his injured leg following the police dog attack.

He said he was with friends in a car and needing to go to the toilet but public toilets were closed so they stopped in the car park area between Trafalgar Park and the rugby clubrooms.

The police dog ran up, without its handler, and attacked him, he said.

"I was trying to fend it off with my arm but it latched on to my leg. I remember lying on the ground, I was trying to hold its jaw open on my leg. It was chewing on my leg, right around it. I could feel it crunching on the bone.

"The handler was yelling at his dog but it kept chewing on my leg. He could not get his dog off for a minute, a minute and a half. Then I went into a bit of shock."

He said the handler had to choke his dog to get it off. He was then asked who he was and was told there had been a burglary from the flats by the Trailways hotel.

"I just wanted some water because I was bleeding quite heavily. They were not prepared to help me very much. They did call St John and he turned up in an SUV, wrapped me up, and advised me to see my GP in the morning."

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McArtney said he was disappointed he did not get an apology from the handler.

He had called his father who took him to Nelson Hospital, where he was given a tetanus injection and 16 stitches.

Chambers said based on the information police had at the time, they were looking for an intruder.

"A car turned up with its lights off, we have a strong scent in that direction. There is a noise then the dog handler sees a person running away from him. He calls on that person to stop.

"The person does not stop, the handler deploys the dog on that person as a next option."

McArtney said he was not told to stop but as soon as he saw the dog he stopped, put his arms up, then tried to defend himself.

Chambers said an advanced paramedic was called and the man was given the option of a police doctor that he declined.

"I am absolutely confident the right decisions were made by the dog handler; at the time we were dealing with an intruder and a person acting suspiciously and not stopping when asked to by police."

Chambers said he had decided to refer it to the IPCA because he welcomed the opportunity for an independent look.

"Based on the information we had, the right decisions were made," said Mr Chambers. "I don't believe the public would expect anything different in the situation."

In the other case, Mr McCourtie is calling for a law change giving the IPCA greater powers of oversight over the police.

An investigation showed that handler's certification had lapsed and the handler had set his dog loose with an attack command without being sure who was on the other side of a boundary fence.

Chambers said in the Nelson case the handler had full certification and was experienced and the dog was fully trained and experienced. They would continue their duties as they were needed in Nelson.

McArtney is supposed to be starting a new job this week and is now waiting to see if his leg will heal sufficiently for him to be able to go fishing for three months in Antarctic waters.

- Nelson

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