A police dog mauled an unarmed Uber driver who didn’t resist. Officials still found the attack ‘justified and necessary’

The San Ramon Police Department concluded that an officer’s release of a police dog that severely mauled a man during a traffic stop was “justified and necessary,” even though video of the incident revealed that the unarmed and barefoot driver had offered no resistance, city records obtained by The Chronicle […]

The San Ramon Police Department concluded that an officer’s release of a police dog that severely mauled a man during a traffic stop was “justified and necessary,” even though video of the incident revealed that the unarmed and barefoot driver had offered no resistance, city records obtained by The Chronicle show.

Police Chief Craig Stevens signed off on the internal review that found the dog was “released at the proper time,” according to documents provided under a California law passed in 2018 to boost police transparency and accountability. The dog handler, Officer John Cattolico, faced no discipline in connection with the traffic stop in December 2020.

However, after victim Ali Badr filed a lawsuit and The Chronicle reported on the incident, the San Ramon City Council requested that city officials work with the police force to do additional investigation into what happened, said Council Member Sabina Zafar.

“It’s a matter of huge concern for us,” said Zafar, who declined to discuss specifics, citing the ongoing lawsuit and city probe. “I’m wishing Mr. Badr a speedy recovery.”

Footage from the body cam of K-9 handler John Cattolico shows the interaction between driver Ali Badr and San Ramon police officers after Badr was violently bitten by a police dog. Video: San Ramon Police Department via Matthew Haley

Cattalico and Stevens did not respond to interview requests.

Cattolico and his fellow officers had stopped Badr, a 42-year-old Oakland resident, because the car he was driving had been reported stolen by the owner of a rental company. Badr had rented the Toyota Camry so he could give Uber and Lyft rides, and was behind on his lease payments.

Two police use-of-force experts who viewed the videos of the dog attack at The Chronicle’s request said the release of the animal appeared to be unjustified. Former Boston police Lt. Tom Nolan, who studies police use-of-force cases, called it a “hyperexaggerated and hysterical response.”

“The cops lost control of what they created,” said Nolan, an associate professor of sociology at Emmanuel College in Boston. “It’s as wild a situation as it gets. It’s Cops Gone Wild.”

The internal finding and lack of discipline come at a time when advocates for increased accountability continue to question whether police departments can properly investigate their own officers.

San Ramon police K9 handler John Cattolico speaks to a seated Ali Badr after his arrest in December 2020.

San Ramon police K9 handler John Cattolico speaks to a seated Ali Badr after his arrest in December 2020.

San Ramon Police Department 2020

In Danville, San Ramon’s neighbor to the north, an internal review of Officer Andrew Hall’s 2018 killing of a fleeing, unarmed motorist cleared him of misconduct before a jury convicted the officer of felony assault, a Chronicle investigation found. After Hall was cleared, he shot and killed a second man while on duty.

In San Francisco, Police Chief Bill Scott and District Attorney Chesa Boudin are now battling over the chief’s recent decision to pull out of an agreement that made the District Attorney’s Office the lead investigator in police use-of-force cases. Scott alleges that Boudin’s office violated the deal, which Boudin denies.

The records from San Ramon reveal that seven police officers reported that Badr refused to comply with orders and, after being ordered out of the car, appeared to be reaching back into his car in the moments before he was mauled. The Chronicle viewed videos from 11 body-worn and dashboard cameras, and the footage does not show Badr reaching back into the car.

Members of the command staff, in a subsequent use-of-force review, found that the deployment of the dog was reasonable and followed department policies.

Badr sued the city of San Ramon, Stevens, Cattolico and six other officers in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force, assault and battery, and violation of civil rights. Badr, an Egyptian immigrant, said he believes he was treated differently because he is North African and was perceived to be Muslim.

Footage from the body cam of K-9 handler John Cattolico shows the initial encounter between driver Ali Badr and San Ramon police officers during a traffic stop over a reported stolen vehicle. Cattolico released a dog that violently attacked Badr. Video: San Ramon Police Department via Matthew Haley

Badr, alleging negligence, is also suing the car’s owner, CarMommy CEO and co-founder John Blomeke, his San Jose company, and HyreCar Inc. of Los Angeles, which acted as a go-between for the rental. The new records allege that Badr was 10 days behind in his payments when the car was reported stolen to police.

A CarMommy spokesperson told The Chronicle that the company made “extensive efforts” to have the car returned or paid up, but eventually filed a “missing vehicle report” with San Jose police on Dec. 20, 2020, the day of the traffic stop.

“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Mr. Badr at this time for what he endured with his injury and the extent of his recovery process, as a result of his interactions with the San Ramon Police Department,” the company said in the statement.

It was about 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 20 when officers pulled over Badr after license plate scanners alerted police that his car had been reported stolen. Badr was en route to his part-time job at a San Ramon gas station.

Badr got out of the car near the intersection of San Ramon Valley Boulevard and Crow Canyon Road. He dropped his shoes onto the pavement and stood next to them, the videos show.

With the car surrounded, officers yelled at Badr to put his hands in the air and not to reach back into the vehicle. The videos show that Badr placed his hands on the roof of the car, then briefly dropped them near his waist as he shuffled his feet, trying to slip his shoes on.

Less than 10 seconds after Badr stepped out of the car, Cattolico released his dog, Dexter, who latched onto Badr’s right arm and bit him for more than a minute as the Uber driver screamed in pain. The wound required 32 stitches to close and multiple surgeries to repair.

San Ramon police recommended that Badr be charged with felony vehicle theft and misdemeanor resisting arrest, but Contra Costa County prosecutors declined to file a case, citing a lack of evidence and the interests of justice.

Footage from officer Kyle Leano’s body cam shows the initial encounter between driver Ali Badr and San Ramon police officers during a stop over a reported stolen vehicle. K-9 handler John Cattolico released a dog that violently attacked Badr. Video: San Ramon Police Department via Matthew Haley

Police records show officers at the scene told a consistent story — that Badr was not following orders and appeared to be reaching or moving back into the car.

In his report, Cattolico said he took out his dog because stolen car suspects often carry weapons, flee on foot or barricade themselves inside their cars. He noted that the stop was in a populated area.

In the video, he told his colleagues he would handle verbal commands, as is recommended by department policy to avoid interfering with communication with the dog. But in the videos, other officers can be heard yelling orders, often over one another.

Cattolico described in the documents obtained by The Chronicle how he told Badr “no less than four times” to place his hands out the window, but that Badr at first only placed one outside.

San Ramon police dog Dexter bites the arm of Ali Badr (seated) in December 2020.

San Ramon police dog Dexter bites the arm of Ali Badr (seated) in December 2020.

San Ramon Police Department 2020

“Once I was able to see both hands of the suspect outside the open window on the driver side I told him to exit the vehicle with his hands up,” Cattolico wrote. “He then placed both hands back inside the vehicle and opened the door. He stepped out. As he stepped out he did not keep his hands raised as he was directed to do.”

Nolan, the former Boston lieutenant, said drivers often struggle to follow precise commands to exit a car with their hands raised, because they must use their hands to unbuckle their seat belt and unlock and open their door.

After Badr exited the car, Cattolico wrote, he repeatedly told Badr to raise his hands. In the videos, Badr can be seen with his hands on the hood of the car.

“He then bent over and appeared to be accessing something inside the vehicle. I stated, ‘Do not reach in the vehicle.’ I again told him to raise his hands, he did not comply,” Cattolico wrote. “At this point I feared the suspect may be attempting to access a weapon inside the vehicle, in an attempt to assault officers. This potential assault could aid in the suspect’s escape.

“Additionally,” the officer continued, “an overt act of violence against officers would compound his resistance and further endanger the public as well as officers. These two instances would ultimately lead to the suspect’s avoidance of being arrested.”

So, he said, he released Dexter to “prevent escape, overcome resistance and effect an arrest.”

Ali Badr shows his right arm after surgery.

Ali Badr shows his right arm after surgery.

Provided by Ali Badr

The last thing Cattolico said before releasing the dog, according to his own body-camera video, was, “Walk back toward the sound of our voice!” At the same time, other officers were yelling for Badr to place his hands in the air. A second later, Cattolico released the dog.

The internal review by the San Ramon Police Department found that Badr lowered his hands and bent forward toward the open car door as if he might have been getting back inside. Training Sgt. Becky Chestnut concluded that Cattolico acted within the department’s dog policy, the records show.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor and director of the Civil Rights & Police Accountability Project, said he was shocked by the video footage.

“It looked horrific and presented as an obviously unjustified use of force,” said Futterman, a former juvenile public defender. “It was painful to watch even for me.”

Nolan said the police had set up an impossible scenario for Badr with a dog barking and officers shouting confusing orders that likely created a disorienting experience.

“They’re saying the guy is not compliant, but I’m not seeing that,” Nolan said. “I’m seeing multiple officers yelling different orders. … I couldn’t understand what they wanted him to do. You can see the guy is trying to put his shoes on.”

The fact that Badr pulled over right away, indicating a compliant driver, should have de-escalated the traffic stop, Nolan said. And he said Cattolico had not warned Badr he was going to release the dog, in apparent violation of San Ramon’s K9 deployment policy.

“This should be used in training,” Nolan said, “in how not to handle this type of situation.”

Badr told The Chronicle this past week that he is now jobless and living out of a hotel. He said a doctor has told him he will need at least one more surgery on his arm. He said he followed every direction given by police.

“I listen to everything they said and was compliant for all they told me,” he said. “All I can say is you can watch the video and see for yourself.”

Matthias Gafni is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @mgafni

Next Post

Cat Has Very Own Custom Fish Tank with Inside Viewing Box

Mon Feb 14 , 2022
Look, we’ve all watched cartoons. So we all know one indisputable fact: you can’t own both fish and cats. Otherwise, at some point your feline friend will dive into the tank and eat all the fish. The cat will then get the bowl stuck on their head. It’s hilarious, yes. […]