POLICE WANTED ‘A DOG THAT WOULD BITE A BLACK PERSON’. The terrifying reign of a small town’s police dog.
Updated on Oct 29, 2020
The Pontiac with a broken headlight sped away from pursuing police, screeched around a corner and skidded to a stop, blocked by a patrol car with its emergency lights flashing.
Ashley White says that’s when she panicked, leapt from the passenger seat and fled into the night.
“The way my friend was driving, I was scared, I thought we were going to wreck,” White recalled recently. And she was frightened by Talladega police. She ran past some houses, jumped a wire fence and hid in a knot of trees.
Racing off leash, a big police dog tracked her. Its handler, Officer Daniel Chesser, lifted it over the fence. It bounded into the thicket. That’s when White, 26 years old at the time, began to scream in terror, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!”
Police body camera footage, made public here for the first time, shows White lying face down on the ground to surrender as the dog tore into her backside. “I was helpless,” she said in an interview. “I was already down so the dog grabbed my butt, and he started shaking. He tasted that blood.”
It took a long time for Chesser to pull the dog off. White’s ordeal was only beginning.
The attack in June 2015 was not the first nor the last in the one-year reign of Andor, a Belgian Malinois who bit people in Talladega for minor offenses, for running from police, and sometimes for no crime at all. All but one of those mauled were Black. They didn’t use weapons, and the city dropped most charges against them.
From the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2015, Andor sent at least nine people to the hospital, brought the FBI to Talladega and prompted five lawsuits from people he bit. His story, pieced together mostly from thousands of court records and police videos, reveals what can go wrong when a small town employs a powerful animal to police petty crime.
Across the country and around the state, no government body regulates or tracks the use of police dogs, according to an investigation by AL.com, The Marshall Project, IndyStar and the Invisible Institute. Because of its weak laws on public records, Alabama agencies reveal almost nothing to the public about cases in which police dogs bite people, even when an incident results in severe injury or even death. The investigation found that police often use dogs on people suspected only of low-level infractions, and that the resulting injuries can be severe.
Some big cities, including Seattle, Indianapolis, New Orleans and St. Paul, Minnesota, have had to change their use of dogs after documented problems and public outcry.
But as Talladega shows, K-9 units can cause terrible trouble in small towns, too.