Woman Sues After Police K-9 Attack
June Dileo had just stepped outside her house to help in the search for a neighbor’s missing 4-year-old when she was mauled by an out-of-control Port Orange police dog, according to a lawsuit she has filed against the city. Dileo’s negligence lawsuit filed this month in circuit court in Volusia County accuses the city of failing to properly train the German shepherd K9 Rex to obey commands and its handler Officer Justin White. Dileo said she was bitten at least five times by the dog, one bite a gaping cavern of torn flesh in her inner thigh. The 53-year-old Dileo said in an interview that she could feel the blood pulsing as she pressed a hand to the wound while with the other she pushed on the dog’s snout. “I could feel the tear,” she said. “I could feel the flesh tear and I could feel the blood pumping.” Port Orange Police Chief Gerald M. Monahan Jr. said this week he could not comment because of the pending litigation over what police described in reports as Dileo’s “apprehension” by the K9. But in a Port Orange police report, White wrote that Rex was about to stop when Dileo appeared to try to grab the dog and it bit her. A report from Officer Gregory Cook said White was running after Rex and yelling down at the dog. Cook said Dileo spread her arms as if she was trying to block the dog from passing her. While Monahan would not comment about the incident, he praised both Rex and his handler Officer White for other work they had done. “The dog is a decorated police canine,” Monahan said in a phone interview. “He’s been very effective. He’s done very well for the department. Both the dog and the handler are decorated in terms of the job they have done on the street.” The dog was removed from service immediately after the attack on July 18, 2013, police said. Monahan declined to say this week whether Rex had received any special or additional training after biting Dileo. However, a memo obtained from Port Orange shows that Rex underwent training afterward, although it did not appear to reference the attack. Monahan did say that Rex is back at work on the street with White. Dileo’s eyes watered and her face reddened when she learned Rex was back on the street during an interview with her attorney, Luis Gracia, at Rue & Ziffra. “I have a big concern with him being on the force again,” Dileo said. Dileo, who described herself as an animal lover, said the dog should not be returned to the street without additional training. Dileo said also that she was not trying to stop the dog when it bit her. She said she stepped outside the house to help in the search for the child. Then as she stood on her property in July she saw shadows in the darkness. Then she saw something coming at her. She said she bent down and put out her hands. But Rex didn’t stop. “Next thing I know I was on the ground,” Dileo said. “He grabbed my inner thigh. That’s how he got me.” It was not the first time Rex had disobeyed commands. On July 26, 2011, nearly two years before Rex bit Dileo, the dog escaped from White as they searched for a missing woman. Police said then that the dog broke free and possibly ran after some wildlife into the woods. Rex was found after several hours. Last summer, Port Orange police were behind Dileo’s home on the 6600 block of Nasser Lane about 8:30 p.m. on July 17, 2013, looking for the 4-year-old. Neighbors were already outside concerned about the child’s whereabouts. An officer went to Dileo’s home which she shared with her roommate to ask if they had seen the missing child. In a recording of the interaction, the officer states to them not to go outside because the dog is out there. Dileo said in the interview and told police after the incident that she does not remember the officer telling them not to go outside. She also said there were other neighbors out on the street. Officer White and Rex were checking a pond behind the house. The police dog got tangled in some loose palm fronds and debris behind Dileo’s house, according to the lawsuit. White attempted to lift the dog to untangle it but the lead came off the dog’s collar, the lawsuit states. Rex ran to the front of the house and ignored numerous commands to stop. “…Rex viciously attacked (Dileo), dropping her to the ground and repeatedly biting her,” the lawsuit states. Rex bit her at least five times, she said. The worst was a gaping 7 1/2 inch-long bite which required 35 external staples. She said the police dog had been on her for “at least 15 seconds” when she saw Officer White. “I said to him, “Could you please get him off me and that’s when he said, ‘Ma’am be still.’ And I wasn’t even moving.” She said White then took his fist and brought it down like a hammer three times on top of Rex’s head. The dog let go. She said she was grateful the officer got the dog off her. Gracia said White tried to prevent Rex from biting Dileo. “We know that the officer was doing his best to stop him,” Gracia said. “The shame is that Rex was simply not following commands.” Cities are liable for a maximum of $200,000 due to sovereign immunity laws. Dileo and Gracia have not said how much money they’re seeking in the lawsuit. Dileo’s roommate, Janice Smith, used to be a trauma nurse, and rushed over to help her. She said, though injured and rattled, Dileo told her everything would be OK. “She said ‘I think I’m bleeding to death,’ ” Smith said. “And she’s reassuring me. And she is saying, ‘I think I’m going to die.’ ” The child was found later safe and sound under a table in his house. But Dileo, Smith and Gracia wonder what would have happened if things had turned out different. “We always wonder what would have happened had the dog found the kid,” Gracia said.