MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A legally blind man said he had no verbal warning when a police dog burst into his kitchen in a church hostel and left him with multiple bite wounds and a bruised tailbone. Now, he’s suing the city.
According to the body camera footage, it appears officers don’t blame him.
“It looks really bad on us. We didn’t intend to sic a dog on some guy, make him a f-ing snack,” one officer says on his body camera.
The hostel is in one of the three buildings on-site at the church that are connected by a keypad.
One night in January of 2021, church staff called 911 about two men who were spotted on a security camera breaking into a building at the church.
Staff on the scene had warned officers about a man staying in an apartment above the sanctuary. Maxwell lived in the hostel, which is in a separate building to the north.
Body camera video shows the officers entering the building with a K-9 unit and announcing themselves.
“Come out here. We’re going to release the dog. Come out!” they yell. The dog is then taken off the leash and starts to lead officers.
A few minutes into the search, they encountered the resident who employees initially warned officers about. He was told to stay in his room.
Officers move north and hear footsteps. They are then seen outside the hostel, where they ask the dispatcher for the code to get in. Staff remained on the line with dispatch.
The staffer later told MPD internal affairs, “I wasn’t sure where they were, and she asked me for a code.” She said the code is a general code that opens most of the keypad locks.
The officers don’t announce themselves when they enter the hostel, and Maxwell says he had no idea what was going on. He didn’t know MPD was in the church nor did he hear them enter the hostel. He was in the kitchen area at the time.
“I was oblivious to everything that was happening,” Maxwell said. “I’m sure I was listening to a podcast.”
The body camera video shows the door open. The dog jumps on Maxwell and he falls to the ground, repeatedly screaming, “Who is this!”
“I didn’t know what was going on. I just know several men are holding me down and a dog was biting me,” he said.
Officers told him to relax and asked him what he’s doing here. Maxwell told officers the hostel is where he lives.
“I was terrified. I thought I was going to die,” he said.
Maxwell is then handcuffed. Another tenant hears the commotion.
That’s when police realize the man in handcuffs wasn’t who they were looking for.
Officers told internal affairs they weren’t given clear information. All they knew was that “no one was supposed to be inside the building except for one person on the third floor.”
“There was no reasonable basis for them to be in this part of the building in the posture they apparently were,” Maxwell’s attorney Jake Brown said.
He also questions why officers did not give a clear, verbal announcement when they entered the hostel, after using the keypad.
According to the canine unit trainer, they’re not required to. He told internal investigators an announcement “is encouraged on every building search,” but there are times you don’t want to “give your position away.” He said they’re also “encouraged” to have the dog off the leash during the search “as long as you know the building is secure.”
We sent Dan Maxwell, a former officer and current professor at the University of New Haven, footage and internal affairs documents to get his opinion.
“It’s almost like the perfect storm of some things that just didn’t connect,” he said. “The officers were already at a heightened state of awareness. This translates to the canine. Canines are extremely attune to how their handlers are behaving.”
We asked if there is anything to prevent a situation like this.
“Trying to get better info before everybody goes in. Better info from the complainant, better info from dispatch,” he said.
He also said more training always helps.
It’s unclear if anything changed after this incident since internal affairs only wrote up one officer for not wearing his body camera.
“It really changed my opinion of the Memphis Police Department,” Kyle Maxwell said.
Officers never found the thieves in the building that night.