It’s 1:30 A.M. in the coastal North Carolina city of Wilmington. The skies are cloudy, and it’s a cool 72-degrees the morning after Halloween when the call comes over the radio: a vehicle has blown through a DWI checkpoint at Market Street and 15th.
Units are in pursuit.
The chase heads out of Downtown, past a cemetery, a church, a park and an airport, ultimately leading to the corner of North 23rd Street and Castle Hayne Road.
This is where you make your move.
With the vehicle heading through the intersection, you t-bone it, hop out of your cruiser as the suspect raises his hands in surrender, and shove your K-9 partner in the open car window to maul the driver.
Sounds reasonable, right?
It was a reasonable decision for officer Stafford Brister of the Wilmington Police Department to make in the moment, apparently, as he boosted his German Shepherd, Kaas, into the vehicle, resulting in injuries to the suspect’s face and neck.
“Right when I was raising my hands, the dog came through the window and bam, I got teeth inside my shoulder,” said the suspect, Johnnie Williams, via Wilmington NBC-affiliate WECT.
The first WECT report of the incident says, “Upon being stopped, Williams refused to come out of the vehicle, so the K-9 unit was used to get him out of the vehicle.”
The dash-cam video footage of the stop seems somewhat at odds with that description.
Mind you, other descriptions of the event include the fact that, when running through the checkpoint, Williams nearly hit authorities. Described as a “habitual felon,” he also ran several stop signs during the course of the pursuit and rammed a police vehicle to continue his would-be escape.
But still, shoving a German Shepherd through an open window of a crashed car, the driver of which has his hands raised in surrender?
Officer Brister wasn’t the only one who found that to be the proper course of action: a grand jury cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing in the incident.
“I believed it was a close enough legal question that the community should decide whether the use of force was reasonable and I would not rule as a matter of law that it was,” said District Attorney Ben David.
Brister is still on paid administrative leave pending the results of an ongoing internal police investigation; Kaas is with currently with another partner. Wiliams, however, was charged with speeding to elude arrest, reckless driving and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a government official.
What do you think of the police dog being shoved through the car window? Is this an example of excessive force by the Wilmington Police Department’s K-9 unit?