Alpharetta police have launched an internal investigation after a restrained man experiencing a “mental health crisis” was bitten by a police dog last weekend in the front yard of his home.
Travis Moya, 36, is recovering from a concussion and multiple bite wounds after his attorneys said officers used excessive force while arresting him Sunday evening in front of his family.
Police responded to Moya’s home about 6:15 p.m. after his wife called 911. The man’s attorneys described it as a non-violent mental health call, saying Moya was never physically combative or violent, and hadn’t committed a crime.
“Mr. Moya was having a mental health crisis,” his attorney, Chris Stewart, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This was non-violent, nothing crazy, but his wife felt that an ambulance needed to check him out. They called for help, and instead, a K-9 unit shows up.”
Cellphone video released Thursday appears to show the police dog bite Moya while he was on the ground with three other officers on top of him.
The 55-second video appeared to show him being detained by the officers before they took him to the ground. While they were struggling in the yard, a fourth officer brought his dog up to Moya and could be heard telling the K-9 to attack. Moya was taken to the hospital for treatment before being booked into the Fulton County Jail on one count of felony obstruction.
“For whatever reason, they tried to handcuff him and detain him even though he was on his own property and hadn’t done anything,” Stewart said. “They slam him to the ground, which is excessive use of force. Then, out of nowhere, the K-9 officer brings the dog over and lets him loose on Mr. Moya while he’s cuffed on the ground.”
The man’s attorneys said police had been at the home less than 10 minutes before Moya was on the ground with the K-9 on top of him.
Photos released Thursday afternoon show deep puncture wounds on his upper arm, as well as blood-soaked hospital sheets.
Stewart said he plans to file a lawsuit against the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety as soon as next week. He is also calling for criminal charges against the four officers involved.
“There’s so many dog bites on his arm he can’t count them,” Stewart said.
The cellphone video only shows a portion of the exchange, but Moya appeared to resist as officers attempted to handcuff him outside his front door. At one point, a crying woman can be heard saying, “Baby, stop” and “Travis, calm down.”
As the dog bit him, Moya cried out in pain. He can be heard saying, “I didn’t do nothing to you” and pleading with the officers to “get this dog off of me.” His 5-year-old daughter was home at the time and witnessed the exchange, Moya’s attorneys said.
The dog remained on its leash during the incident.
An Alpharetta police spokesman confirmed Tuesday that a use-of-force investigation is underway.
“At this time, no complaint has been filed in relation to this matter, however per our policies, a use-of-force investigation is being conducted in this matter, as is performed for any instance of a use-of-force incident by one of our officers,” agency spokesman Officer Jeffrey Ross said in an emailed statement.
The department did not say whether any of the officers involved in Moya’s arrest have been placed on leave amid the internal investigation. Their names were not released.
“They knew this was a mental health call,” Stewart said. “There was no reason for them to even touch him, let alone slam him on the ground.”
Sunday’s incident comes amid national calls to reform policing in the U.S. by having trained mental health professionals respond to certain non-violent calls instead of armed officers. Over the past several months, several metro Atlanta departments have hired mental health professionals to accompany officers on certain calls and help deescalate tense situations.
“Obviously, when someone calls in about a mental health crisis, a K-9 unit should not be the one that responds to it,” said attorney Madeleine Simmons, who is also representing Moya. “There’s a breakdown there in the training and the processes and policies that they have in this police department.”
Alpharetta’s K-9 policy says the dogs’ handlers “may only use that degree of force reasonable and necessary to apprehend or secure a suspect.”
That policy also instructs the department’s handlers to “exhaust all reasonable means to effect an apprehension without incurring a canine bite.” In addition, department policy requires officers to intervene if they witness an “improper use of force,” records show.
The AJC has submitted an open records request for both the 911 call and the police report related to Sunday’s arrest. Moya’s attorneys are calling on the department to release the body camera footage of the officers involved. They also want Moya’s felony charge dropped.
Clarification: An initial version of this story said Moya was handcuffed when he was bitten by the police dog. Newly released body camera footage appears to show his left hand in cuffs, but his right arm remained free as he struggled with officers in the yard.