Despite Bates crying in pain, the dog’s handler, Officer Ryan Rezentes, “stood by and watched his canine viciously maul the young victim,” the lawsuit states.
By the end, pieces of Bates’s scalp had been torn from her head, “exposing bone and tissue,” according to her lawsuit filed in federal court in Northern California.
Now, Bates is seeking monetary damages, alleging that Rezentes used excessive force and violated her constitutional rights. Her lawsuit also names the City of Brentwood as a defendant.
“This is an example of the way in which police do not look at Black and Brown people, or criminal suspects, as humans,” Adante Pointer, one of Bates’s lawyers, told The Washington Post. “Instead, they are numb to … the pain their use of excessive force causes.”
The Brentwood Police Department did not immediately respond to messages late Wednesday.
The lawsuit comes as the use of police dogs as a means of force has come under scrutiny. According to a 2020 investigation by the Marshall Project, police departments around the country use dogs trained to bite — often on people who are unarmed and suspected of nonviolent crimes or no crimes at all.
Such bites can cause serious injuries. Between 2005 and 2013, police-dog bites sent thousands to the emergency room, according to the project. In Phoenix in 2019, a police dog bit off part of a man’s face after he led law enforcement on a chase, the Phoenix New Times reported. In December 2020, a police dog in San Ramon, Calif., sank its teeth into an unarmed Uber driver’s arm and continued to grip it for almost a minute even though he had committed no crime, The Post reported.
Around noon on Feb. 10, 2020, Brentwood police responded to a theft at an Ulta Beauty store, according to a Facebook post by the department. Three women, including Bates, were suspected of stealing $10,000 worth of merchandise and then fleeing the store in a Nissan Murano. Police located the car parked near a field and began to search for its occupants. According to the lawsuit, Bates was hiding in a bush in the field when police arrived.
That’s when Rezentes ordered a German shepherd named Marco to search the field. Without warning, Rezentes commanded the dog to go into the bush, and the canine immediately attacked Bates’s head, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit claims police “ignored Ms. Bates’ chilling screams” as the canine “viciously” mauled her.
According to body-camera footage reviewed by The Post, Rezentes told Bates to crawl out of the bushes as she screamed that the dog was biting her. Bates also appeared to be on the phone with her mother throughout the incident. “The dog’s biting me,” Bates cried while addressing her mother, according to the video.
“My whole brain is bleeding,” Bates said at one point.
The footage shows that police eventually tried to get the dog off Bates.
After police removed the dog, Bates told an officer that she didn’t know a dog was going to bite her, according to the footage.
“Well, you shouldn’t run from the police,” an officer responded.
Bates was subsequently transported to a nearby hospital where “surgeons were able to reattach her scalp,” the lawsuit states. In January, she pleaded no contest to charges of grand theft and resisting a police officer, both misdemeanors, in the shoplifting case, according to court records.
Yet Pointer told The Post his client was left with a “deformity” on her head, and her hair will not grow in the areas where the dog bit off her scalp. The lawsuit says she “continues to suffer from headaches, memory loss and depression as a result of the horrific experience.”
“Every day she looks in the mirror, she has to face the visible results of what this police officer allowed his vicious canine to do,” Pointer said.
According to the police department’s website, Marco the German shepherd was brought to the United States from the Czech Republic and “is currently trained for basic patrol work, tracking and narcotics detection.” The website says that Rezentes remains his handler.