The Auburn Police Department has one of the nation’s highest rates of K9 dog bites.
The Auburn Reporter identified a total of 87 use-of-force incidents within the Auburn Police Department spanning from January 2014 to May 2020 involving the use of K9 dogs.
The Auburn Reporter’s research builds upon the investigation and data first gathered by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization. A 2021 report by The Marshall Project cited Auburn as the police department with the highest per-capita rate of dogs biting suspects among U.S. cities that were examined.
Auburn K9 officers at the time — Jeffrey Nelson and Timothy Nunn — accounted for approximately 86 of the 87 total K9 use-of-force incidents from the three K9 units in the timeframe examined. Nelson accounted for 48 of the incidents and Nunn accounted for 38. The third K9 unit, officer Glenn Powell and his K9 Lu Bu, accounted for one single use-of-force incident in the six-year timeframe, according to data from The Marshall Project.
Within the timeframe examined, from January 2014 to May 2020, the three Auburn K9 units (Nelson and his K9 Koen, Nunn and his K9 Jax, and Powell and his K9 Lu Bu) responded to a total of 1,021 incidents, according to data from The Marshall Project.
In the 1,021 calls where the three officers responded with K9 units — with 87 incidents of K9 use-of-force within the timeframe — the officers deployed the K9s resulting in K9 use-of-force incidents approximately 8.5% of the time.
Out of the 87 incidents, The Marshall Project’s data included the racial identity of the subjects in 83 of the incidents.
White subjects accounted for 32 of the 87 incidents, Black subjects accounted for 22, Hispanic for eight, Pacific Islander for six, Indian for five, Asian for five, subjects categorized as “other” for three, and subjects categorized as “unknown” for two.
Although The Marshall Project’s research includes data regarding the racial identities of subjects involved in K9 use-of-force incidents, without data regarding the racial identities of suspects per each of the 1,021 incidents within the timeframe, the Auburn Reporter’s analysis will not determine whether specific races experienced a higher proportionality of K9 use-of-force incidents.
The use-of-force incidents range from K9 attacks on bystanders, department detectives and jaywalkers to felony burglary suspects and assault suspects. Justifications for use-of-force range from suspects refusing commands to fleeing arrest to hiding.
‘You will be bit’
On Aug. 12, 2017, Auburn police officer and K9 handler Timothy Nunn and his K9, Jax, searched the attic of a house in the execution of a search warrant for the arrest of a woman named Lela Tracy.
Nunn announced himself as the police and warned “that the area was being searched by a police K9 and ‘you will be bit.’”
K9 Jax discovered a different woman, Layla Bennett, hiding in a roll of carpet. K9 Jax bit Bennett on her right shoulder prior to attacking the right side of her head.
Nunn interviewed Bennett after the incident after learning she had hidden because of an outstanding warrant for her arrest. At the time, Bennett held a $40,000 traffic warrant out of Enumclaw and a $1,500 trespass warrant in King County.
The incident resulted in the hospitalization of Bennett for her injuries. Auburn Police Department sergeants and chiefs approved of the K9 use-of-force in the incident.
On May 25, 2018, Nelson deployed K9 Koen on three carjacking suspects who were fleeing from a stolen vehicle. Two surrendered immediately, according to public records. The third fled, and Nelson deployed K9 Koen. K9 Koen attacked the suspect, biting and holding, with the suspect screaming loudly.
Nelson confirmed the suspect lacked any weapons and commanded K9 Koen to release, according to records.
The screams of the suspect and the shouting of officers drowned out the commands, and K9 Koen continued the attack, resulting in additional injuries, according to prosecutorial records.
The attack resulted in the hospitalization of the suspect.
In an internal inquiry of the incident, Daniel O’Neil, an APD commander at the time, found acceptable performance for Nelson.
“Concerned that the third suspect could be armed and a potential threat to (officers) Nelson and Martinez, Officer Nelson made a decision to send Koen on a direct,” stated O’Neil in his findings.
“… There are training points for Officer Nelson to consider as a result of this incident. Officer Nelson is responsible for his K9 and his actions. When Officer Nelson or any K9 handler makes a decision to deploy their dog, they are responsible for his K9 and his actions.”
The Auburn Police Department’s policy manual provides guidelines for the use of K9s in apprehending suspects.
According to department policy, officers may use K9s to locate and apprehend suspects “if the canine handler reasonably believes that the individual has either committed, is committing or is threatening to commit any serious offense” and any of the following conditions:
Reasonable belief that the suspect poses an “imminent threat of violence or serious harm to the public, any officers or the handler.”
The suspect “is physically resisting or threatening to resist arrest and the use of a canine reasonably appears to be necessary to overcome such resistance.”
The suspect “is believed to be concealed in an area where entry by other than the canine would pose a threat to the safety of officers or the public.”
Additional policy states without a reasonable belief of the committing of a serious offense, “mere flight” from a pursuing officer, without any of the conditions listed, “shall not serve as the basis for the use of a canine to apprehend a suspect.”
Prior to the use of a K9 for suspect apprehension, department policy asks officers to consider factors ranging from the nature and seriousness of the suspected offense to the potential for danger to the public and officers the release of the K9 poses.
“A canine search should be conducted in a manner that minimizes the likelihood of unintended bites or injuries,” the policy manual reads.
The Auburn Police Department declined to directly respond to questions regarding the training of K9s used in the department, any changes in department policy regarding K9 deployments, whether any incidents of K9 deployment resulted in officers facing disciplinary measures, and more.
A public records request for “all documents regarding any disciplinary actions for use-of-force regarding K9 usage in the department from January 2014 to May 2020” resulted in a single finding in the timeframe of unacceptable performance.
In the incident, Nunn and Sergeant Brian Anderson deployed K9 Jax on a suspect with “minimal articulation to show that the suspect was a threat to anyone other than not obeying commands,” according to an internal investigation report.
The incident resulted in Nunn and Anderson receiving coaching and counseling for lacking articulation establishing the reasonableness for the use of force — how the suspect posed a risk of harm to officers or the public; lacking command and control for planning an arrest; lacking planning for mitigation of potential injury; and missing standard of documentation from reports on the incident.
In the internal investigative report, the report lists a department policy regarding use of force that lists “‘immediacy and severity of the threat to officers or others’ as the first factor that should be taken into consideration.”
On March 2, 2014, Nelson directed K9 Koen to bite an individual that committed jaywalking in his presence because he fled when he attempted to stop him, requiring the fire department to respond and give the individual medical treatment, according to prosecutorial documents.
On Aug. 31, 2014, Nelson directed K9 Koen to bite an individual who was hiding from him after the individual fled from a traffic stop and hid to avoid arrest, requiring the fire department to respond to provide the individual medical treatment.
On Dec. 31, 2014, executing an arrest warrant in a subject’s house, Nelson punched the subject in the mouth prior to directing his K9 to bite the subject, requiring the fire department to respond and hospitalize the individual.
On Jan. 29, 2015, Nelson directed K9 Koen to bite an individual as he arrested him for a misdemeanor offense because the individual hid from him. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of the subject.
On April 16, 2015, Nelson directed his K9 to bite an individual repeatedly because Nelson found the individual’s presence in a restaurant parking lot suspicious, resulting in the individual’s hospitalization.
On June 14, 2015, Nelson deployed K9 Koen pursuing a fleeing suspect. A civilian bystander “(entered) the scent picture” of the suspect and (backed) into a vehicle,” prior to K9 Koen attacking them. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of the bystander.
On June 16, 2015, investigating a misdemeanor domestic stay away order, Nelson directed his K9 to bite an individual and he punched the individual in the face. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of the individual.
On Sept. 29, 2015, assisting another officer with a traffic stop, Nelson directed his K9 to bite and scratch the passenger after they walked from the scene, requiring the hospitalization of the passenger.
On Jan. 31, 2016, Nelson deployed his K9 on a passenger after they left the scene of a vehicle stop. The subject received a bite, and first responders transported him to the hospital.
On Feb. 16, 2017, Nelson deployed his K9 on a subject with an outstanding arrest warrant, and as the person tried to break free of the bite, Nelson struck him in the face with his right forearm and knocked him to the ground. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of the subject.
On March 28, 2017, Leslie Hunkin disregarded the lights and siren of a police vehicle and sped from the scene at a high rate of speed. Law enforcement discontinued pursuit of his vehicle. The officers continued driving and saw the vehicle drive into a parking lot near the 1300 block of Auburn Way South. Hunkin abandoned the running vehicle and fled into a residential neighborhood as the vehicle continued driving, stopping after hitting a bush. Nunn initiated a K9 track using K9 Jax. In a summary of the incident, Nunn said he initiated the track as Hunkin “placed the officers and the public in (danger) by eluding police at a high rate of speed (and) the total disregard for the public by allowing the vehicle to continue driving as he fled from it.” K9 Jax discovered Hunkin behind trash bins on a back porch and attacked Hunkin’s head, resulting in punctures on his right ear and left cheek. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of Hunkin. Commanders and chiefs approved of the K9 use-of-force.
On July 4, 2017, Nunn initiated a K9 track on Elmer Gomez-Evaristo after he fled from a hit-and-run that resulted in injuries to a woman. The K9 attacked Gomez-Evaristo after discovering him lying on his back, resulting in his hospitalization.
On June 1, 2018, Nelson approached a mentally ill and intoxicated person with a cell phone and knife. He deployed his K9 and the K9 affixed his jaw on the man’s left leg. Nelson struck the person on the left side of his face with his right forearm, knocking him to the ground. The person lost consciousness, striking his head and back on the pavement. After, Nelson released the dog’s hold. The incident resulted in the man’s hospitalization.
On June 28, 2018, a welfare check turned into a pursuit for a suspect. Nelson deployed his K9 and the K9 bit the original detective pursuing the suspect. Nelson commanded the K9 to release the detective, with his injuries from the attack rendering him unable to continue. Continuing the pursuit, Nelson rammed and tackled the suspect to the ground and the K9 bit the suspect. Nelson held the suspect in a vascular neck restraint. The K9 then bit Nelson.