Man sues Punta Gorda police over K-9 takedown

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – A man is suing the city after his attorney says he was nearly killed by a police dog in a traffic stop over a bicycle.

On October 30, an officer with the Punta Gorda Police Department began trailing 25-year-old Richard Shumacher, who was riding a bike in the dark with no lights down Aqui Esta Drive.

It was before 10 p.m. when Officer Lee Coel tried to stop Shumacher for the infraction.

“The bicycle did not have a headlight or tail light activated, making it nearly impossible to see the bicycle or rider,” Coel wrote in a police report.

In his report, Coel said Shumacher began to pedal faster making several turns on roads in the area. Footage shows Coel pursue Shumacher who finally comes to a stop in the driveway of a home.

Less than two minutes later, Coel would open his patrol car door, releasing his K-9 officer to take down Shumacher.

For the next two minutes, Coel wrestles with Schumacher while the dog rips into the flesh under his arm. Schumacher is heard in the footage moaning and yelling all while Coel makes commands.

Bloodied and handcuffed, Schumacher was rushed to the hospital where he stayed for 11 days undergoing surgery.

He received a warning citation for riding his bike without lights, according Coel’s police report. Shumacher also faced charges for attempting to elude an officer, violation of probation, DUI on a bicycle and obstructing an officer without violence.

But there was no reason to deploy the K-9 officer, Shumacher’s attorney, Scott Weinberg said. Weinberg said he has a strong case against the officer, whom he believes committed a terrible crime.

“If you watch the video, from the first thing the officer says, he tried to stop my client for not having a light on his bicycle and he says “Stop or I’ll send the dog,” Weinberg said. “It seems pretty harsh to start sending a dog on somebody riding a bicycle by a gas station.”

The police department hired an outside expert to review the incident. He determined the use of force was justified due to Schumacher’s repeated non-compliance and possible threatening gestures.

However, following the incident, the PGPD changed its K-9 policy. Now to deploy a K-9, a suspect must show “aggressive resistance” not just “active resistance.” PGPD Chief Tom Lewis said he does not want to see the incident repeated.

“I think the biggest thing here is irrespective of the legalities and technicalities and everything else, we wanted to make sure that something like this never happened again,” Chief Lewis said.

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