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Lawsuit claims Sherwood K-9 had no business on patrol

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Azi, a Sherwood K-9 officer shown here with his former partner Officer Corey Jentzsch, was sent back to California last year after he attacked Sgt. Nathan Powell.A Sherwood police officer is suing Clackamas County and a California dog training organization for more than $1 million after he was attacked by the Sherwood Police Department’s own K-9 police dog.

Sgt. Nathan Powell filed a complaint in Multnomah County Circuit Court on April 15, seeking damages from Adlerhorst International, the company that sold Sherwood the dog, as well as its president, David Reaver, and Clackamas County, which ran a training program with the dog before it started work in Sherwood in 2011.

Azi, a 3-year-old German shepherd, joined Sherwood’s law enforcement team in July 2011, after Adlerhorst officials hand-picked the dog for placement in the city.

Adlerhorst is one of the largest private police dog schools in the world, providing canines to more than 500 law enforcement agencies. Dogs undergo up to two years of training in Europe followed by a course in the United States, according to the company. Reaver then personally inspects and tests the service animals.

What happened?

Before beginning work, Azi and his handler underwent training in Clackamas County, which certified the team was ready to begin police work. But Powell said Azi was never a good fit for the department, culminating in an attack six months after the dog arrived.

Powell was on duty with the Sherwood Police Department on the evening of April 19, 2012, when he and another officer stepped outside into a fenced-in yard where — unbeknownst to either of them — Azi was roaming freely.

Powell said the K-9’s attack was vicious and unprovoked.

Azi reportedly bit down hard on Powell’s right arm, which Powell had instinctively raised to his face.

The complaint alleges that Azi continued to attack Powell even as his handler shouted commands for the dog to cease. Instead, Azi escalated the attack, shaking his jaw while locked onto Powell’s arm and dragging the officer to the ground.

According to the complaint, the attack lasted a full minute, with Azi crushing Powell’s arm and biting him several times before he eventually relented.

The complaint stated, “By that time, (Powell) was bleeding profusely and had sustained severed tendons to four of the five fingers on his right hand.”

Powell was rushed to an emergency room, and his injuries required surgery. Powell reportedly continues to suffer severe pain because of the attack. The officer sustained permanent loss of function in his hand and arm. He will also likely need additional surgeries to help bring back function to his hand. For a time, he was unable to work and could not use a shoulder-mounted police radio or unholster and handle his firearm.

According to Powell, Adlerhorst neglected to properly train and screen Azi before his sale to Sherwood. If it had, the dog’s overly aggressive, overly protective and vicious tendencies would have been noticed, which should have been relayed to Sherwood police prior to purchasing the animal.

Clackamas County dog trainers did recognize those traits, Powell said, but allowed the dog to pass its certifications anyway.

“Throughout that training, the Clackamas County sheriff’s designees responsible for training Azi and his handler ... observed that the dog did not promptly respond despite repeated commands, was overly protective and was difficult to control,” the complaint reads. “Even though they had the knowledge, expertise and experience to determine that Azi was not suitable for police work, particularly with a new K-9 handler, the trainer ... nonetheless certified the dog, allowing it to begin work for Sherwood.”

Not the first time

This wasn’t the first troublesome instance Sherwood police had with Azi. That same year, the dog bit Police Chief Jeff Groth on the nose. The bite was described as a “nip” by authorities, but required stitches.

Azi was returned to California after the attack on Powell, where the complaint alleges he was re-sold to another law enforcement agency.

Adlerhorst has re-sold dogs in the past, the complaint claims, even after learning dogs were disobedient, overly aggressive and uncontrollable.

Powell said it’s unclear whether Azi had been returned by a previous owner before he was sold to Sherwood, but said the dog should not have been used as a police dog in the first place.

“An ordinary consumer purchasing a canine for police work would expect the canine not to have (an) overly aggressive, overly protective, vicious and disobedient disposition and would expect the canine to come with adequate training and screening designed to prevent the canine from having an overly aggressive, protective, vicious and disobedient disposition,” the complaint stated. “Azi failed to meet those expectations.”

Powell’s lawsuit seeks $80,327.21 in economic damages, stemming from lost wages and hospital bills, plus $950,000 in noneconomic damages.