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Sheriff and dogs to have their day — in court

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At least the court testimony should be interesting, providing someone can interpret for a German shepherd.

A man has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard and several of his deputies and two police K9s.

A Rottweiler named "Bear" and a yet-to-be-named German shepherd are listed as defendants in a suit filed by Oliver M. Benavidez.

Although naming the K9s in the lawsuit may sound funny, the case is no laughing matter to Benavidez, who claims deputies turned the dogs loose on him for "their own sport," according to court documents.

The attack caused serious bodily injury and permanent impairment, documents state.

Speaking on behalf of the sheriff's office, Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Kent Morgan said the allegations in the suit are hard to believe based on the training the K9s and deputies receive.

"The dogs employed by Salt Lake County are extensively trained and certified before being used for law-enforcement purposes. This training is designed to prevent accidental or unwarranted use of force by the dog handler or his or her dogs," Morgan said.

Benavidez was pulled over by a deputy on June 28, 1999, because of a suspicious temporary registration. When the deputy asked him to step out of the car, he fled.

Following a short car and foot chase, K9s found Benavidez hiding in tall grass near a drainage canal. When the dogs found him, Benavidez stood up and told the officers, "You've got me," according to court documents.

But rather than simply arresting the man, the K9 officer ordered, "Get him, Bear," according to court documents.

Morgan said if that was the case, the dog wouldn't have moved.

"Training commands are often in the form of foreign languages or unusual statements to prevent them from reacting unintentionally," he said.

Benavidez claimed in court documents that for nearly two minutes, Bear and another German shepherd were allowed to repeatedly bite his face, neck and torso.

After he was handcuffed, Benavidez claimed he could not feel his arm, court documents stated. A deputy then told him, "When they cut it off, they will just chop it up and feed it to Bear," court documents stated.

The sheriff's office said Thursday it could not comment specifically on the case. But deputy Peggy Faulkner said the K9s are trained to bite and hold rather than continuously bite a suspect.

If any suspect is injured, that person is given immediate medical attention before being taken to jail, Faulkner said.

E-MAIL: preavy@desnews.com