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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah man who says his face was badly bitten by a West Jordan police dog even though he put his hands in the air filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the city.
Lee Hoogveldt, 33, said he was too afraid to answer the door when three officers investigating a trash burning complaint surrounded his home in March 2013.
West Jordan police spokesman Sgt. Dan Roberts said in a statement that Hoogveldt had been violent in the weeks before officers came to his door investigating fires set at neighbors' homes, and officers worried he could have a concealed knife after they saw an empty sheath on the table.
Police body camera footage released by Hoogveldt's attorney shows he raised his hands at the command of officers after they came inside, but didn't immediately stand up from a low couch when told to.
The video shows an officer yelling several times for Hoogveldt to stand and sending the dog when he doesn't obey.
The footage shows the animal closing its jaws around Hoogveldt's face and holding on until its handler wrested it away. The suit claims the dog also bit Hoogveldt on his upper legs after he had been handcuffed and police used a Taser on him.
"This ruined my life," Hoogveldt said. The federal lawsuit filed against West Jordan and the canine officer seeks unspecified damages.
Police charging documents state that officers were responding to calls from Hoogveldt's neighbors, who said he had lit garbage cans on fire and had a knife. Hoogveldt later pleaded guilty to reduced criminal charges in a deal with prosecutors that cleared his record after he stayed out of trouble for a year.
Hoogveldt had encountered police before as he struggled with mental illness, said his attorney Robert Sykes.
The March 2013 incident started after he lit a Christmas tree in his neighbor's trash on fire, Hoogveldt said. He acknowledged it likely scared his neighbor.
Sykes said the officers entered his client's house without a warrant and the video shows his hands were in the air when the officer released the dog.
"No one is at risk here, no officer is at risk and he releases the dog anyway," Sykes said. "You can see at least seven or eight seconds of that dog yanking on his face."
Hoogveldt suffered severe facial injuries and had to pay about $60,000 in medical bills, Sykes said. Hoogveldt said he's regained feeling, but the scar tissue is so thick that his facial hair doesn't grow properly.
He's been treated with medication since the incident and is holding a job as a diesel mechanic but says he is afraid of police and doesn't feel comfortable in his own home.
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