In the case of Lowry v. City of San Diego, a police dog police brutality victim, Sara Lowry, was bitten by a police dog while she was sleeping on the couch in her office. She had been out drinking with friends after work and instead of going home, decided to crash out at work. When she got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she tripped a burglar alarm. Soon thereafter, she was awoken to find a k-9 police dog biting her lip. The dog was not on a leash and, as trained, the k-9 was engaged in a "bite and hold" maneuver, which meant that it bit the victim and held on until finally called off by the handler. In this case, the dog was finally called off, but only after nearly biting through Sara Lowry's lip.
Ms. Lowry sued the City of San Diego under the theory of Section 1983 liability set forth in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Under a Monell theory of liability, a plaintiff can hold a municipality like the City of San Diego liable for a constitutional injury caused by one of its employees if the plaintiff can prove that the municipality was the "moving force" (i.e., the cause) behind the constitutional injury suffered by the victim because the injury was inflicted pursuant to a city policy, regulation, custom, or usage.
In Lowry v. San Diego, the Ninth Circuit confirmed that police dog force is "severe" force, given its potential for causing severe harm. The Court considered the case under the excessive force Graham v. Connor balancing test, and concluded that a jury could find that the balance of considerations weighed in favor of the victim, Sara Lowry.
The Court held: "The question on appeal is whether a reasonable jury could find that under these circumstances the officers used excessive force when they deliberately unleashed a police dog that they knew might well 'rip [the] face off' any individual who might be present in the office. As the preceding discussion makes plain, a reasonable jury could find that the City’s use
of force in this case was not an objectively reasonable one. The intrusion on Lowry’s liberty interests was severe. By contrast, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Lowry, a reasonable jury could find that the City had little interest in deploying such a serious use of force: three of the five factors used to assess the City’s interests – including the most important factor, the absence of any immediate threat to
the safety of the officers or any other person – weigh against a finding that its use of force was objectively reasonable, while the other two weigh only slightly in the City’s favor.
Accordingly, a reasonable jury could find that the deployment of Bak was not an objectively reasonable use of force."