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Lawsuit filed against West Jordan police after man bitten in face by dog

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WEST JORDAN — Martin Lee Hoogveldt had both his hands in the air, but he said he was too afraid to move.

"I've always been very cordial and very respectful to any officer. I was just in shock the whole time. I did nothing but try to make it easy for them. I thought I would not be a threat sitting down," he recalled.

About five seconds after putting both his hands in the air, while sitting on his couch in his own trailer home with at least two West Jordan police officers pointing guns at him, K-9 "Pyro," a German shepherd, was released and immediately jumped onto Hoogveldt and latched onto his face.

On Thursday, Hoogveldt and his attorney, Bob Sykes, announced they have filed a federal civil lawsuit against West Jordan police officer Ian Adams, Pyro's handler, and the West Jordan Police Department.

"This particular violation of rights is one of the most egregious I've seen in my career. Turning a dog loose on somebody who has his hands up," said Sykes, adding that his client had his hands up for four or five seconds before officers allowed "that dog (to) chew on somebody's face."

"This is a very, very serious violation of constitutional rights, and it really cries out for justice," he said.

Hoogveldt claims the officers used excessive force on him, illegally searched his home and unlawfully entered without just cause.

But West Jordan police said Hoogveldt had been involved in a series of violent incidents in the days leading up to the dog bite, including earlier that day when he lit his neighbor's trash can on fire twice and made threats with a knife, said West Jordan Police Sgt. Dan Roberts.

The incident was recorded on Adams' body camera. On Thursday, with Hoogveldt and his parents sitting by his side, Sykes showed the video to the media. Hoogveldt's mother frequently wiped away tears with a tissue as she watched it for the first time.

On March 24, 2013, police were called to Hoogveldt's trailer home, 7079 S. 1115 West. Hoogveldt said Thursday that he believed his neighbors called the police because he was burning a Christmas tree in a metal can in the backyard.

According to charging documents, Hoogveldlt actually lit his neighbor's garbage can on fire and waved a knife at his neighbor. Later, a neighbor brought some food to Hoogveldt's trailer, but he then allegedly threatened to stab the neighbor if he didn't taste some food he already had on the stove.

After police arrived, Adams can be heard in the video asking whether officers were responding to an arson call. As officers approach Hoogveldt's door, they see him through the window. At least two officers have their guns drawn.

"Come to the door or it's going to get kicked," one of the officers yells. "Front door now."

The officers yell a couple of times for Hoogveldt to open the door. When he doesn't, they kick it in. Adams then yells for Hoogveldt to come out or a police dog will be released.

Hoogveldt admitted Thursday that he knew the officers were at his door.

"He asked me to open the door and I didn't dare move," he said. "I froze to where I don't even know if I was breathing."

As the officers entered the mobile home, the body camera video shows Hoogveldt reclining on a couch with his legs propped up. The officers tell him several times to slowly stand up. Instead, Hoogveldt raises both his hands in the air. That's when the dog bit him.

"Hands up means we're cooperating with the police," Sykes said.

But Hoogveldt said he believes the dog was "less harsh" than what happened to him next.

After the dog bit Hoogveldt's face, it took officers about 30 seconds to pry him off. With blood gushing from his face, the officers attempted to handcuff Hoogveldt while he was on the ground. He was hit with a Taser several times, Sykes said, and the K-9 bit Hoogveldt's rear end as police were on top of him. After he appeared to be in custody and no longer struggling with officers, a chair was accidentally tipped over onto Hoogveldt's forehead, leaving an open gash.

Hoogveldt said he still "gets so mad" when he sees the video.

"It's hard to watch," he said. "This ruined my life."

Since the incident, Hoogveldt has undergone about $60,000 worth of reconstructive surgery.

But Roberts said, "The video only shows one aspect of the entire incident."

Officers were already aware of Hoogveldt's recent history with police when they arrived, he said. They were worried that he might start a fire inside his home. Furthermore, officers noticed an empty knife sheath as they entered. Because Hoogveldt did not follow officers' commands to stand up, they were afraid he was trying to entice them to get closer and then attack with a knife, Roberts said.

Even after the initial dog bite, Roberts said Hoogveldt continued to resist arrest — despite the use of a Taser — which is why the dog nipped at his buttocks again.

For the incident that day, Hoogveldt eventually took a plea in abeyance to charges of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, and two counts of reckless burning for that arrest. As part of his sentence, he was ordered to seek treatment at Valley Mental Health, according to court records.

Just 10 days earlier, on March 14, Hoogveldt was charged in Midvale Justice Court with several misdemeanors. He also took a plea in abeyance in that case to disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records.

He also was charged with two counts of assault and disorderly conduct for another incident that happened on March 9, 2013, according to court records. That case was eventually dismissed.

Likewise, a charge of intentionally defacing property for an incident from March 11, 2013, was also dismissed at the request of the victim, according to court records.

When asked about his prior behavior, Hoogveldt said the allegations are only partially true. There were claims that he was heating covered jars of jelly on a stove so they would explode like a bomb. Hoogveldt contends he stopped taking his anti-depressant medication and couldn't remember basic things, like how to make food.

"I literally was walking around my house, like, 'I lost my memory. I forgot everything.' I couldn't cook. I was just trying to eat. I was hungry," he said.

Likewise, an incident in which he allegedly pulled a gun on a person was a misunderstanding, he said. Hoogvedlt was also accused of disrupting an LDS Church meeting.

"He went off of his medication, which he shouldn't have done," Sykes said. "He doesn't make any effort to hide the fact he had some mental health issues."

Despite the encounters with police leading up to the dog bite, Sykes said, it doesn't justify the actions police took.

"You can only use the amount of force necessary at the time it's necessary. His prior encounters don't count. He could have had all kinds of problems. That doesn't justify the police kicking his door in two months later. That's not the way the law works. The force has to be appropriate when it's used. You don't count up prior encounters," he said. "The fact that he had prior police encounters, we believe, is irrelevant to all of that."

Sykes has become known in recent years for representing several people who have sued police departments for civil rights violations. But he said these aren't cases of "crying wolf."

"I believe in constitutional rights. You have to have attorneys willing to take these cases. This is not crying wolf," he said. "This is a very, very legitimate cause of action."

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Pat Reavy

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