Posted by on June 15, 2017
Categories: California

A 64-year-old Half Moon Bay man bitten by a San Mateo County sheriff’s dog while rescuing his neighbor’s cat in 2015 has been awarded more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages after a seven-day jury trial in federal court in San Francisco.

Richard May, a retired sound engineer, sued Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Laughlin and San Mateo County after the deputy’s canine, a German Shepherd named Riggs, bit his leg on Jan 1. 2015.

May and his 73-year-old neighbor, Sharon Coster, had climbed over a 7-foot fence at a construction site to rescue Coster’s cat. Laughlin and other deputies arrived on scene in response to a call from a security company
reporting an apparent burglary.

Laughlin claimed that he released the dog after ordering May to show his hands and drop to the ground, believing that a commercial burglary was in progress and that the suspect might be armed, but May contended that
he didn’t hear any such command from Laughlin until after the dog attacked.

May was detained and interviewed at the sheriff’s station before being treated at a hospital, where Laughlin cited him on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing and resisting arrest.

He later filed a lawsuit based on claims of unconstitutional use of excessive force, negligence, assault and false arrest – seeking compensation from the county and from Laughlin for his costs and emotional distress. He also sought punitive award from Laughlin.

The trial ended Wednesday, and the jury rendered a verdict finding in favor of May and against Laughlin on the claim of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as for battery and violating the
Bane Act – which protects citizens from threats, intimidation or coercion as well as attempts to interfere with one’s rights.

May was awarded $1 million in compensatory damages. He was also awarded $100,000 in punitive damages, with a finding that Laughlin acted with malice, oppression or reckless disregard for May’s rights.