BENICIA – A man who was attacked and mauled by a Benicia police dog that escaped from the back seat of an officer’s patrol car in 2021 has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that Benicia officers violated his constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure and used excessive force in detaining him.
The man, 36-year-old Gary Gregory, was not charged with any crime following his detention by the officers, but the dog severed his jugular vein, which required life-saving surgery, and left deep flesh wounds on his arm and shoulder, according to the lawsuit filed last week. The Vallejo Sun released body camera video of the dog attack obtained through a public records request last year.
Prior to the attack on May 17, 2021, Gregory had been walking in the East N Street Trailer Park. According to the lawsuit, Gregory lived there with his girlfriend, but they were going through a difficult break-up. He was subject to a restraining order but wasn’t violating it as his girlfriend had previously left the park.
Police had arrived at 6:28 p.m. and asked Gregory to leave. He was collecting his belongings, and the officers left without incident. But they returned less than 30 minutes later, after multiple people called and reported hearing gunshots. Police later determined there had been no gunfire.
When the officers arrived, they immediately found Gregory near the park entrance, drew their guns on him, and ordered him to raise his hands. One of the officers who arrived was Officer Christopher Francis, who left open his driver’s side door and a hatch that separated the front seat from the back, where he kept his police dog Apollo.
According to the lawsuit, the officers yelled “multiple and confusing mixed instructions to [Gregory], and to each other.” They pinned him to the ground on his stomach. Gregory complied with the officers’ commands but heard the dog barking and expressed that he was afraid of it.
While Gregory was detained on his stomach, Apollo — an 85-pound Malinois — ran through the open partition in Francis’ car, out the front door, and latched onto Gregory’s neck. Francis yelled at the dog to let go, but the dog would not obey his commands. The dog bit Gregory for about 25 seconds before Francis could physically pull the dog off him.
“The forced ‘release’ was not a mere opening of the dog’s jaw,” the lawsuit states. “It was a complete tearing open of [Gregory’s] neck and throat with a gruesome and audible rip as the dog was wrenched away by Officer Francis.”
Blood poured from Gregory’s neck. The officers searched and handcuffed Gregory and secured the dog before providing medical attention.
The city hired Chaplin and Hill Investigative Services — a firm owned and operated by former law enforcement officers — to conduct an investigation. It concluded that Benicia police should change its policies regarding dogs to “protect the public from unintentional contact with the canine.”
It also found that Francis had violated department policy because he “neglected his duty to protect the public,” which “amounts to unsatisfactory work performance.” However, the department did not discipline Francis for the incident.
In fact, in interviews with investigators, Francis said that he had no concern about the dog’s behavior.
“As a handler, I consider this a street fight. He did what he's been trained to do,” Francis said. “I know he's going to do his job if he ever needs to.”
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- Benicia Police Department
- Gary Gregory
- Christopher Francis
- Chaplin and Hill Investigative Services
Scott Morris is a journalist based in Oakland who covers policing, protest, civil rights and far-right extremism. His work has been published in ProPublica, the Appeal and Oaklandside.
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