A recently Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach audit has looked into an encounter between a sheriff K9 unit and a falsely-detained driver.
"So this case started with the Sheriff's Office commendably doing their own review of the use of force," IOLERO Director John Alden said. "They're required by state law to do that. Once they finished their review, we double checked it, and it turns out we came to different conclusions."
Alden is talking about the June 2021 arrest in Cotati of Humboldt County resident Adam Gabriel.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies falsely suspected Gabriel of being accomplice to a carjacking, even though Gabriel's vehicle did not match the model or color of the suspect vehicle. Deputies then used a canine unit on Gabriel before taking him into custody for resisting arrest.
Alden said IOLERO took major issue with the conduct.
"Specifically the sheriff's office felt that the use of the dog, to bite Mr. Gabriel was appropriate," Alden said. "It's not entirely clear to me why they think that, but they do. We concluded that it was not appropriate."
Deputy Shawn Forghani briefly deployed the sheriff canine, named “Max,” as Gabriel knelt in front of deputies with his arms raised.
In the sheriff's office Internal Affairs review, Forghani cited Gabriel’s “non-compliant” and “confrontational” attitude, saying Gabriel was using “sovereign citizen type jargon."
Alden said IOLERO feels the case laid out by deputies doesn’t measure up.
"We didn't think the case showed that there was adequate de-escalation, that the use of the dog was proportionate to the risk of violence at the time, or that a threat of of violence was imminent," Alden said.
In a written response, the Sheriff’s Office disputes IOLERO’s assessment and defends a decision to clear Forghani of any wrongdoing; saying “the deputy’s perception of danger cannot and should not be ignored.”
IOLERO concluded the use of canine force violated sheriff policy and prevailing law, and recommends the Sheriff brings canine policy in line with the law and public expectation.
Adam Gabriel, who sustained puncture wounds and cuts during the ordeal, has filed suit against the Sheriff’s Office.