A 53-year-old Yakima man was arrested Tuesday evening on suspicion of drunken driving in an incident at Fred Meyer that has raised concerns with some community members.
At issue was the use of a Yakima police dog to force the man to comply with officers’ orders to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed by biting his leg.
“There was already a state patrolman on top of him, civilians on top of him, yet they chose to have the dog come out and bite him,” said Noemi Sanchez, who recorded video of the event and posted it to social media.
But a Yakima police official said the decision to use police dog Zorro was justifiable given the man’s refusal to comply and the fact there were two civilians there as well, restricting other means of forcing the man to comply with orders.
“He was in control of the situation,” Lt. Chad Stephen said of the suspect, Jose L. Zaragoza. “If he wasn’t doing anything wrong, why did he not stop for the police?”
Stephens said the incident will be reviewed, per YPD policy by both the patrol division commander and the department’s police dog coordinator.
The trooper first spotted Zaragoza driving a red GMC Sierra east on U.S. Highway 12, partially crossing the lane three times, according to a probable cause affidavit. When the trooper tried to stop him, Zaragoza headed to North 40th Avenue and pulled into the parking lot at Fred Meyer, where he drove 20 mph as he made a loop around the lot, the affidavit said.
Zaragoza then “suddenly” stopped his vehicle, the affidavit said, he got out and refused the trooper’s orders to get on the ground. As he walked to the store, Zaragoza was wrestled to the ground by the trooper, and a bystander assisted the trooper in holding him down until backup arrived.
During the struggle on the ground, Zaragoza refused to put his arms behind his back, the affidavit said, and a Yakima police officer brought in a police dog who bit Zaragoza’s leg until his hands were cuffed, the affidavit said.
Sanchez, who prefers to go by the pronoun they, said they were going shopping and saw the police cars and the commotion. Officers were yelling commands at Zargoza in English, but they said it was apparent to them that he only spoke Spanish.
“Any time he was given directions in English, he could not follow it, but when it was translated into Spanish he could,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez and others started yelling the officers’ commands in Spanish to Zaragoza, Sanchez said, but the trooper and others had him pinned to the ground, making it difficult for him to comply.
Stephens said Officer Brad Althauser heard the pursuit on the radio and came to provide backup. When he arrived, he saw the trooper and two civilians trying to control Zaragoza, who was trying to push himself up from the ground, Stephens said
While appreciative of the civilians’ help, Stephens said they complicated how police could respond. They were too close for officers to use pepper spray or a stun gun, so Althauser chose to bring his dog, Zorro, over to apply a “pain compliance” hold to Zaragoza’s leg.
In the video, Althauser is seen with a tight grip on the dog, and directing the dog’s head to Zaragoza’s leg, and then releasing the dog after Zaragoza was finally cuffed. Stephens said Althauser had the dog under tight control and ensured he only bit Zaragoza’s leg and not any other part of his body or those around him.
Stephens also disputed Sanchez’s claim that Zaragoza could not understand English commands.
“That is absolutely 100 percent false. He spoke English, but he preferred Spanish,” Stephens said. “When he was questioned later, he understood English.”
In his affidavit, the trooper said Zaragoza responded to him in English. However, during his preliminary court appearance Wednesday, he required the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.
The trooper noted that Zaragoza’s eyes were bloodshot, his speech slurred and he had an odor of intoxicants on him, the affidavit said. He was taken to Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital for treatment of the dog bite and to have a blood sample taken for toxicology testing.
He was booked into the Yakima County jail on suspicion of driving under the influence, eluding, resisting arrest and obstructing a law-enforcement officer.
Yakima County Superior Court Judge Douglas Federspiel set bail at $2,500 during the Wednesday hearing.
Deputy Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Heather Thorn argued for $20,000 bail, noting Zaragoza’s three prior DUI convictions in 2012, 1997 and 1993, the fact that he was driving at 20 mph in a store parking lot where people were walking, and his resisting arrest.
But defense attorney Paul Kelley argued there was no probable cause for eluding since Zaragoza did not drive at high speeds on the highway or North 40th Avenue, and that his speed in the parking lot was debatable.