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Lawsuit over police-dog bite dismissed

HUDSON -- A St. Croix County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Sheriff's Department by a woman who was bitten by a K-9 that jumped out of a squad car.

In a decision released last week, Judge Edward Vlack dismissed the lawsuit filed in January 2011 by Denise Carroll, Roberts, against the Sheriff's Department and Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Company.

According to background in the decision, on July 2, 2010, Carroll was helping her daughter move to Roberts when several items blew out of the back of Carroll's truck onto I-94 and its median. After dialing 911 for assistance, Carroll started picking up the items.

Shortly after, two deputies, including Jason Sykora, who as a canine unit had a dog riding in his backseat, arrived. By that time, Carroll was picking up things that had landed in the median.

Sykora offered her a ride for a short distance so she could get to her vehicle without having to cross three lanes of traffic.

Vlack noted there is some discrepancy between the woman's and the deputy's recollections of whether or not he warned her that the dog was in the squad. But as Carroll opened the back door on the driver's side, Sykora yelled "No," and the dog began barking.

Carroll tried to push the door closed, but the dog, Doc, pushed his way out, knocked her to ground and bit her on the upper thigh.

The judge's decision says that while Carroll doesn't remember being warned or instructed to enter the front passenger-side door, she conceded that there were several warnings visible on the exterior of the car indicating the dog was in the vehicle.

Carroll filed this personal injury lawsuit Jan. 20, 2011.

The sheriff's department asked that the case be dismissed, arguing, among other things, that the department is not an entity that can be sued.

In his decision, Vlack wrote that the law enforcement dog had been "properly kenneled" in the squad car before it was accidently released and attacked Carroll near the vehicle.

"(T)he dog bite to Ms. Carroll occurred in the context of a courtesy ride being offered for Ms. Carroll's own safety and in turn the safety of other motorists on the road," wrote the judge. "Absent a courtesy ride, it would have been necessary for Ms. Carroll to walk down the median of the Interstate in order to retrieve her papers. Yet, imposing liability on the sheriff's department in a case like this would deter officers in the position of deputy Sykora from offering courtesy rides to individuals like Ms. Carroll, when such a ride makes sense for safety reasons."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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