BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A prosecutor for the Crow Tribe accused a federal law enforcement officer of aggravated assault and other offenses after the officer's police dog allegedly caused extensive injuries to a tribal member during a traffic stop.
A civil complaint from prosecutor David Sibley seeks to ban the Bureau of Indian Affairs officer from the Crow reservation in southeastern Montana over the July 20 incident in Lodge Grass.
Bureau officials said in a statement that a police dog had been used in Lodge Grass on that date during the apprehension of a suspect who was pulled over, stepped out of his vehicle and allegedly assaulted an officer.
The dog was commanded to release the suspect but that “did not initially occur,” the statement said. Charges against the suspect are pending.
Officer Steve Stallings was the handler for a dog that latched onto the leg of the tribal member following a traffic stop in Lodge Grass, according to the complaint. He could not be reached for comment.
Despite his attempts to restrain the animal, it continued to hold the suspect's leg in its jaws even after the man was on the ground and in handcuffs, causing extensive injuries that required the suspect to be hospitalized, the prosecutor said.
Sibley said he filed the complaint Wednesday in Crow Nation Tribal Court, but did not know when Stallings would be officially served with the suit. Because Stallings is not Native American, he cannot be charged with criminal offenses in tribal court.
He's accused of criminal endangerment and negligent endangerment in addition to aggravated assault.
The prosecutor said he decided to pursue charges after reviewing cellphone video of the incident captured by the suspect's wife.
“Law enforcement has to be held to a similar standard or higher standards than the public,” Sibley said. “The bottom line is if you don’t have the ability to control the dog, you don’t have any business deploying it.”
The suspect had been stopped for allegedly running a stop sign and erratic driving, according to the complaint and Sibley.
A confrontation occurred and the officer who had pulled over the suspect used his Taser twice on him before Stallings arrived and deployed the dog, according to the complaint.
The suspect, who could not be reached for comment, faces charges of resisting, obstructing and assaulting an officer and is due to make an initial court appearance next month, Sibley said.
The bureau said the case was under investigation. Officials declined to say if Stallings was still working on the Crow reservation or if the officer allegedly assaulted by the suspect suffered injuries.
Lack of adequate law enforcement has long plagued the 2.3 million acre reservation along the Wyoming line. Tribal Chairman Frank White Clay said more officers are needed, but they must be adequately trained.
A statement released by the tribe said the incident was “a violent abuse of power.”
“The video clearly shows an officer who is not properly trained, who cannot control a K-9 and shouldn’t be policing our people and tribal lands,” White Clay said.