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Monday, April 22, 2024

Gainesville man mauled by K-9 sentenced to prison, future of K-9 unit unclear

Terrell Bradley pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year in prison

<p>Terrell Bradley sits at a police advisory council meeting Wednesday, July 27, 2022.</p><p></p>

Terrell Bradley sits at a police advisory council meeting Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

The recent sentencing of a Gainesville man who lost an eye in a mauling by a Gainesville Police Department K-9 has sparked concern among the community about whether justice was served. 

Terrell Bradley, who was attacked by a police K-9 after fleeing a traffic stop July 2022, was sentenced to a year in prison by Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Kreider Sept. 26, according to court records. The 32-year-old previously pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Bradley and his family didn’t respond to comment after six calls and two emails, as of Oct. 8.

Amid the controversy surrounding his case, the future of GPD’s K-9 unit, which has been highly contested among residents, remains mostly unknown — as it's in the rebuilding phase.

Bradley pleaded no contest to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, resisting arrest without violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. A no-contest plea is a plea in which the defendant accepts punishment without admitting guilt.

After being pulled over for running a stop sign outside of Sweetwater Square Apartments July 10, 2022, Bradley struggled with police officer Andrew Milman. He swung his right elbow into the officer’s side and then ran off, according to court records. In the search for him, backup units were called along with a K-9 team. 

Bradley hid in bushes about half a mile from the original stop before he was found and attacked by a police K-9 named Ranger. The incident led to the loss of his right eye, as shown in police body camera footage.

K-9 Ranger was suspended after the incident and two GPD officers who made remarks over text celebrating the dog attack and took pictures of the arrest were suspended Sept. 8, 2022. K-9 Ranger no longer works with GPD and isn’t a police dog. The two officers, Milman and Matt Shott, are back on duty.

Local activists who closely followed Bradley’s case and led protests last summer aren’t satisfied with Bradley’s sentencing.

Bobby Mermer, a coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said the organization finds the sentencing disturbing and believes authorities are ‘rubbing salt on the wound.’

“You would think being mauled and partially blinded would be punishment enough for whatever he allegedly did,” Mermer said. “But I guess that the authorities did not see it that way.”

When Bradley was first arrested and mauled last year, the Gainesville streets were filled with protests, some organized by local activists and the ACLC. 

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Mermer has been outspoken about the need to retire the GPD’s K-9 unit due to the frequency of violence associated with it. A report from GPD shows there were 60 attacks by a K-9 from January 2016 to July 2022. The report also shows that out of all injuries caused by a K-9, 13% of victims were white, while 85% were Black.

“It is no surprise the vast majority of those bitten by K-9s are Black and Hispanic men,” Adrian White, the juvenile justice chair for the UF NAACP chapter, wrote in a statement to The Alligator.

White expressed disappointment in the lack of accountability taken by local law enforcement.

“The response from the GPD and the city of Gainesville is heedless to the application of justice and public safety for minorities,” White wrote.

The status of the K-9 unit has fluctuated over the past year. After the city temporarily disbanded the unit to address internal issues, City Manager Cynthia Curry and GPD announced Feb. 1 the unit had been reinstated. 

On Feb. 21, one of Bradley’s attorneys, Gregory Durden, wrote a letter to Curry seeking a settlement for Bradley’s case.

“Given the fact that the force used against him was unjustified by any standard, settlement discussions with the City ... appear appropriate,” Durden wrote.

In the letter, Durden also shared Bradley’s medical bills have amounted to over $250,000 and said the force used against him was unjustified.

Durden and Curtis Lee, Bradley’s other attorney, did not respond to requests for comment from The Alligator.

Less than a month later, Curry made an executive decision to disband the K-9 unit again March 3.

However, Rossana Passaniti, a spokesperson for the city of Gainesville, shared in a statement to The Alligator that GPD has two active K-9 teams and two in training. After the original disbandment in March, she said the unit has been deployed 15 times as of Sept. 5.

“The unit remains under limited deployment while new K-9 teams are being trained,” Passaniti wrote.

The city announced an agreement between GPD and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to ensure the availability of K-9 services March 8. Due to GPD staffing shortages, ACSO will provide the police department with an ACSO K-9 upon request if a GPD K-9 is not available, according to the statement.

Art Forgey, a spokesperson for ACSO, said the agency has already assisted GPD with several K-9 calls since the agreement’s establishment. The sheriff’s office also assists with training or responding to calls for GPD’s unit.

“Whether they choose to use us to train with or to assist them is entirely up to them,” Forgey said.

The future GPD’s K-9 unit has been a hot-button issue among the GPD Advisory Council, as members do not agree on whether the unit should be disbanded.

Over the summer, the council reviewed an internal investigation related to the case. It was sparked by officer Rebecca Holcomb making negative comments about the need to fire officers Shott and Milman, according to the investigation. Milman filed a complaint and Holcomb was suspended for five days without pay.

During a council meeting earlier this year, a motion to recommend the disbanding of the K-9 unit was proposed, but it did not pass, Fareed Johnson, the chair of the council, said.

The council’s power only goes as far as making recommendations to the police department, Johnson added. 

“What the department does with that recommendation, unfortunately, is on them,” Johnson said.

Contact Valentina at Follow her on Twitter @valesrc.

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Valentina Sandoval

Valentina Sandoval is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Enterprise Editor. Whenever she's not writing, she's expanding her Animal Crossing island, making Spotify playlists or convincing someone to follow her dog on Instagram.

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