Fresno man sues city after police dog bites him

After arguing with his ex-wife, Fresno architect Cesar Rodriguez went to his office to cool off.

But when police arrived at Rodriguez’s office to serve him a stay-away order, he would not let them in, so officers unleashed a police dog named Kubo to take him into custody.

A lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court says the German shepherd mauled Rodriguez, leaving deep gashes in his left arm. He spent three days in Community Regional Medical Center after doctors performed surgery on his severely damaged limb, said Rodriguez’s San Francisco attorneys Beau Burbidge and Walter “Skip” Walker.

In his lawsuit, Rodriguez, 44, contends the city of Fresno and several police officers violated his civil rights, committed assault and battery on him, and were negligent for letting the dog attack him last April.

The lawsuit says, “the Fresno County Jail/Fresno County Police Department” have paid for Rodriguez’s $53,371 in medical bills.

Rodriguez owns an architectural design and consulting business at 4321 N. West Ave. near Ashlan Avenue. He and his ex-wife are long divorced, but have been living together in his house since 2001. “She was diagnosed with bone cancer and moved back in so that Cesar could assist her and better help with raising their three children,” Burbidge said Monday.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, describes what Rodriguez says happened:

On the evening of April 30, 2014, Rodriguez and his ex-wife got into a verbal argument. She called police and reported that he threatened to kick her out of the house.

He left before police arrived around 8 p.m.

When officers arrived, the ex-wife reported that Rodriguez had pushed her while she was calling police. Officers looked for injuries, but found none, the lawsuit says.

At the ex-wife’s request, the police obtained an emergency protective order that prohibited Rodriguez from having contact with her.

The lawsuit says police asked the ex-wife where Rodriguez would likely be. She told them that he went to his office. The ex-wife then gave police the keys to Rodriguez’s office.

Police arrived there around 11 p.m. and saw his truck. Officers called him on his cellphone to come out, but he denied being there. Instead, he told police to call his attorney.

Seeing a silhouette in the office, the officers decided to go into Rodriguez’s office, using the keys provided by his ex-wife. After they unlocked the front door, officers announced several times that they had a police dog. When Rodriguez failed to respond, the officers unlocked the door to Rodriguez’s private office and unleashed the dog, the lawsuit says.

Rodriguez was lying down when Kubo attacked him, “mauling him and bitting into his left upper arm, causing severe puncture wounds,” the lawsuit says.

Recognizing the severity of the injuries, police rushed Rodriguez to the hospital, the lawsuit says.

While at the hospital, Rodriguez was placed in police custody, Burbidge said. He was later charged in Fresno County Superior Court with two misdemeanor charges — battery on his wife and resisting arrest. He has pleaded not guilty. His next court date is Thursday.

Deputy Police Chief Robert Nevarez said Monday that officers did nothing wrong. “They did not violate department policy,” he said.

Once officers determined that domestic violence had occurred, they had a duty to look for Rodriguez, Nevarez said.

Officers entered Rodriguez’s office, Nevarez said, because they had a reasonable belief that his ex-wife had standing to give them permission; she worked there and had keys to the office.

In addition, Nevarez said, Rodriguez was being dishonest when he initially told police that he wasn’t in the office. Once officers determined he was inside, he was given several warnings to surrender before the police dog was deployed, Nevarez said.

“He had plenty of opportunity to give himself up,” said Nevarez, adding that the city plans to vigorously defend itself in court against the lawsuit.

But Burbidge said the criminal charges against Rodriguez are ridiculous because he denies hitting his former spouse and had gone to his office and posed no threat to her. He also said police using a dog to attack Rodriguez was “unreasonable and excessive use of force.” Officers didn’t have a warrant to arrest Rodriguez or to search his office, Burbidge said. His ex-wife also did not have the legal authority to give officers consent to enter the office since she was divorced from Rodriguez and did not own the business, he said.

In addition, Burbridge said, Rodriguez was unarmed when attacked by the dog and no weapons were involved in his alleged dispute with his ex-wife.

Rodriguez is seeking damages for pain and suffering and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is also seeking punitive damages against the officers to ensure other residents aren’t attacked unnecessarily by a police dog, Burbidge said.