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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Gainesville Police Department reinstates K-9 unit after month hiatus

Unit has seen numerous controversies

Marking over half a year since a police K-9 tore out a man’s eye during a traffic stop, the Gainesville Police Department’s K-9 unit announced its return from a monthlong hiatus.

GPD confirmed in a press release the unit was reinstated Feb. 17 after staff restructuring in January. Following changes of assignment and the retirement of one K-9 named Roo, the team currently consists of two officers and two dogs.

With experienced handlers and constant training improvements, the unit was a large part of their crime-solving efforts, GPD spokesperson David Chudzik said. K-9s are important for locating missing people, finding evidence and catching suspects at crime scenes, he added.

“We just think they’re such an important and vital part of how we fight crime in this city,” he said.

In July, officers pulled over Gainesville resident Terrell Bradley for an alleged traffic violation, an incident that ended with a K-9 attack in which he lost his eye. Later, GPD conducted an internal investigation and there was community backlash.

Bradley still faces criminal charges from the incident, both from resisting arrest and an unlicensed gun found in his car at the scene.

Three officers on the scene shared photos of the injuries, and officers Andrew Milman and Matthew Shott were reported to have “inappropriate and insensitive” text conversations about the incident.

“It twas the nastiest thing ever his eye was split open and just hanging outside of his face,” Milman said in one text.

“I saw the pictures BRAVO,” Shott replied.

Bradley’s attorney, Gregory Durden, requested a financial settlement from the city Feb. 21, arguing the violence was unnecessary and resulted in upward of $250,000 in medical bills for Bradley.

“The force used against him was unjustified by any standard,” Durden wrote in a letter.

None of the officers involved in the incident are currently on the K-9 unit, Chudzik said. 

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More recently, the city held a Police Advisory Council meeting Feb. 22 where public members advocated for it to address the K-9 unit. While not on the meeting agenda, some members expressed concern and called for training or structure changes within the unit.

Council member Kali Blount said a lack of immediate removal of the canines and structural changes sets up the unit for further danger to the public.

“You don’t need a dog who can destroy the person,” Blount said during the meeting. “You need one who can find them quick.” 

A larger discussion on the unit that will be open to the public was scheduled for March, though no specific date has been added to the city’s calendar as of Feb. 26.

GPD also expects to expand the team by March and has five potential candidates. Further training with new handlers will come then, Chudzik said.

Any new dogs also go through a rigorous training and evaluation program prior to meeting handlers.

Captain Anthony Ferrara said the dogs are evaluated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after nearly 500 hours of training with an instructor.“The vendors complete the simple skill training to demonstrate speed, agility and ability to recognize simple commands,” Ferrara said.

They are also recertified annually, he added.

But some Gainesville residents feel new staff and additional training aren’t enough.Danielle Chanzes, a local activist, said the department’s work environment has a history of controversy that needs improvement rather than new staff.

“There’s a serious culture problem at the K-9 unit, and none of that has been addressed,” Chanzes said.

A Black former officer filed a lawsuit against GPD for alleged racism within the unit in late 2021.

Edward Ratliff alleged that white officers regularly used racial slurs and he dealt with harsher infractions compared to his white peers. Ratliff’s case will proceed to the federal level in April. 

Bradley’s next criminal court event is set for March 14, and as of Feb. 26 the city of Gainesville hasn’t publicly responded to Bradley’s request for financial settlement.

Contact Aidan Bush at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.

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