A retired cop who was a K9 handler for 20 years and trained police dogs for 15 law enforcement agencies clarified that this was no way to treat or train the dog.
Trigger warning: Article contains graphic footage of animal abuse that may be distressing to some.
A man who went to his warehouse to grab some tools on Monday, December 28, witnessed the sight sight of a K9 officer being pinned to the ground and repeatedly punched by a cop in broad daylight.
Roberto Palomino was at his warehouse in Vacaville, California, when he heard the disturbing cries of a dog. He followed the sound and was shocked to see an officer from the Vacaville Police Department repeatedly punching the helpless dog in the parking lot.
"I can still hear the dog crying," Roberto said, as reported by CBS13. "There was an officer beating a dog really bad. It was closed-fist punching in the face to a dog. He punched the dog several times before I was able to get it on camera."
From where Roberto was standing, he could clearly hear the sounds of the helpless dog yelping. "It was like 'ohhh' cries the dog was crying like someone was running him over or something," Roberto told ABC7. "It was bad.
A @VacavillePolice officer training to be a K-9 handler is seen on this video hitting his dog. Man who took video says officer punched dog as many as 10X before the recording. Dept says officer was “correcting” the dog after it lunged & almost bit him. 5:10, 6, 7:40 p.m. @KTVU pic.twitter.com/gVMoZAjOZK— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) December 29, 2020
Seeing the aggressive exchange go on for five minutes, Roberto added, "Before the video, I saw him give at least 10 punches to the dog. At least."
The video was widely shared on social media and sparked outrage, leading to Vacaville Police Captain Matt Lydon issuing a statement about the incident. He said it took place during routine training in the back parking lot of Vacaville Fire Station 73. Lydon added that the K9 handler captured in the video was training the dog to conduct a search for narcotics. After the canine performed well in the training exercise, the handler reportedly rewarded the dog with a toy. However, Lydon said the dog was not ready to give up the toy, which was what prompted the K9 handler to start punching his four-legged partner.
"The K9 lunged in an attempt to bite the handler and that’s when swift action needs to take place to let the dog know the handler is in charge. That is a position of dominance that you see in the video when the officer straddles the dog," Lydon clarified, as quoted by CBS13.
There is never EVER a reason to punch a dog in the face. The fact you initially excused the behavior of this officer is disturbing. He needs anger management. @VacavillePolice @cityofvacaville @VacavillePOA @VacavillePO https://t.co/p92RTJrrFM— Susan Dyer Reynolds (@SusanDReynolds) January 3, 2021
But when Lydon was asked whether it was necessary to punch a dog about 10 times, the officer told ABC7, "I'm not prepared to speak to anything that I did not observe myself." Lydon also confirmed that the dog did not actually bite the handler.
When retired police officer Renee Lancaster saw the video, she said she would never train a K9 officer in such a manner. Lancaster had worked as a K9 handler for over two decades and has trained police dogs for 15 different law enforcement agencies.
"I can't imagine having to get to that extent where you have to sit on your dog and punch it when you couldn't even see the dog moving," Lancaster said.
While the department noted that it was the outcome of disciplining the dog, Lancaster said that this was no way for a handler to teach their partner. "Even if he's an inexperienced officer or didn't know what to do... that's not an excuse," she added.
In an update that the Vacaville Police Department gave on Facebook, they noted that the dog was examined by a vet and showed no signs of distress or injury. It was also noted that the dog had been removed from the care of the handler captured in the video and will remain in the care of a third party outside of the Vacaville Police Department until the investigation into the incident is complete.