Police K-9 attack costs Aurora $80,000

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The City of Aurora has agreed to settle an excessive force lawsuit for $80,000 after a police K-9 attacked a suspect in March 2019.

Cayla Connor, 23, admits she was high on drugs and in a stolen car when police arrested her but said officer-worn body cameras showed there was no reason to have a police German shepherd attack her.

“I’m not perfect. Nobody is, you know, what I mean? But I didn’t deserve any of what had happened,” said Connor.

Body camera footage obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers showed a K-9 handler ordering the dog to bite Connor at the same time officers were yelling at her to show her hands.

“They’re telling me to move my arm out and I’m like, ‘I can’t. I got two cops on each one of my shoulders, how am I supposed to move my arm?’” explained Connor.

The attack would last 37 seconds, including the final 12 seconds when Connor was then in handcuffs.

In the video, Connor screams in pain and begs the officers to stop the dog from biting her.

“It kind of felt like my leg was on fire, honestly,” she said.

Attorney Matt Griefe with the Baumgartner Law firm represented Connor. He said Aurora’s decision not to discipline any of the officers involved was just as disturbing as the video.

“I think anyone reviewing this knows that this was an illegal use of force. Multiple officers wrote reports to make it look justified when compared to the video this would never be justifiable,” said Greife.

“I don’t want to second guess the officers on the street. Split-second decisions are being made,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanesa Wilson.

In an exclusive interview with FOX31, Wilson said she wasn’t even aware of the case (which predates her appointment as chief) until she was contacted by the Problem Solvers.

“I think I can do improvements on how we use our K-9 unit,” said Wilson, adding that she had previously ordered a police audit of the  K-9 unit to look at best practices.

In 2019, K-9s were allowed on felony calls not misdemeanors. Wilson said she has narrowed the policy to generally only allow police dogs be deployed for violent calls.

 “Now the deployment would be, go ahead and go to the call if you want but to stand back and observe,” said Wilson.

Investigative Reporter Rob Low asked Wilson, “So the dog would not have been ordered to attack under today’s policies?”

“Correct, the dog would not have been ordered to engage,” responded Wilson.

Wilson admitted officers likely could have arrested Connor without the use of the K-9 but added the policy in 2019 justified the use of force because officers had reason to fear Connor might have been reaching for a weapon.

“With the hand under the waist, the possibility of a weapon, I think at that time it was appropriate. It’s ugly. I’m not going sit here and say it’s not ugly. It’s absolutely ugly. Hearing someone scream is absolutely unnerving for everyone to listen to,” the chief said.

Connor was not armed but police say it turned out she was had a sunglass case in her clothing, where she was hiding drugs.

“I’m still terrified of German shepherds to this day,” said Connor, who remains upset that no officers were disciplined for the attack that left her with scars in her right leg.

“That made me really mad because (officers) did something wrong but (they) couldn’t take accountability for it,” said Connor.

She said she has struggled with drugs and homelessness but is now living drug-free and plans to use her settlement money to get an apartment.