Things That Matter

A Man Seated In A Vehicle Was Attacked By A K9 Unit And The Community Wants Answers

Police officer Dan Lesser resigned from a K-9 unit after using threatening language on a suspect who was inside a vehicle, then releasing a police dog on him. The Spokesman-Review discovered numerous revelations following the release of public records regarding the investigation into the officer’s conduct. 

The Washington paper discovered that a U.S. marshal and many of Dan’s supervisors did not approve of his actions, but failed to file formal complaints with internal affairs. 

The Spokesman-Review parsed through hundreds of pages of records of an internal investigation into Dan’s conduct. 

“The result of that meeting on 2-13-19 was that Officer Lesser resigned from the K9 unit,” Capt. Tom Hendren wrote in a report. “His resignation was accepted and he has since been reassigned to patrol.”

Dan used a police dog to attack a suspect in a vehicle. 

Dan, who was with his nephew and fellow officer Scott Lesser, was found to have violated his department’s policy when he threatened to kill a suspect. Dan and Scott were also reprimanded for not turning on their body cameras soon enough.

“I’m going to put a bullet in your brain,” Lesser told the suspect Lucas Ellerman. “I’m done f***ing with you.” 

Dan broke the windows of Ellerman’s vehicle and continued to threaten to kill him before telling Scott to get his police dog. 

“I’m coming. Please, don’t,” Ellerman says holding his hands up while climbing out of the backseat. “I’m coming. I’m coming. I’m coming.”

As the dog came closer, Ellerman insists that he doesn’t have a gun. Dan and Scott sicced the dog on Ellerman telling the dog “fass” which is the German command to bite. Ellerman was left with multiple puncture wounds on his leg which later got an infection. 

“I think at that point I’d already made a decision in my mind to already deploy my K-9,” Dan told internal affairs investigators. “Based on all the factors. Based on his active resistance. Based on the crimes. Based on the threats. Everything that I was told, he was armed with a handgun.”

Dan was faulted by supervisors for making violent threats at the suspect and failing to activate his body cam in time but they exonerated Dan for siccing the dog. 

However, the investigation records revealed that three superiors expressed dismay about Dan’s deployment of the animal, but none filed formal complaints with internal fairs as was required. 

Dan’s supervisors face criticism for failing to file formal complaints.

A U.S. marshal who chose to remain anonymous told police Ombudsman Bart Logue, who is an advocate for more oversight of internal affairs investigations, that they questioned Dan’s judgment in releasing the dog. The marshal also expressed serious concerns over the conduct of the police department’s Patrol Anti-Crime Team of which Dan belonged before he resigned. 

Three months before the department’s official investigation, Lt. Rob Boothe sought a second opinion on Dan Lesser’s conduct. Boothe who had been involved with several disciplinary reviews of Lesser feared he might be biased. With Sgt. John Everly’s approval he came to his decision. 

  1. “It is my belief that the suspect posed a potential threat of violence or serious bodily harm, but that threat was not imminent at the time of the application of the canine,” Boothe concluded in his report.

Another supervisor, Sgt. Sean Wheeler was also unconvinced that Ellerman posed a threat to Dan. 

“Ellerman eventually put his hands up and stated he was coming out as he crawled toward the front seat,” Wheeler wrote eight days after the arrest. “This is when Officer D. Lesser deployed his K9.”

While these supervisors were correct to take note of Dan’s behavior, they failed to file an official complaint as the department policy mandates. 

Logue finds the lack of transparency in the case unsettling. 

Because the supervisors failed to file formal complaints the ombudsman was not able to participate in interviews conducted by internal affairs investigators. Logue believes a lack of transparency is a major issue. It is unclear if Dan resigned of his own volition or received pressure from the department to do so — because the records don’t specify either way. 

“There should be nothing off the record” in an internal investigation, Logue said. “Thankfully we don’t have these kinds of cases a lot. But when we do, it seems critical to have all of these things happen aboveboard.”

He believes all of the interviews and conversations conducted should have been meticulously documented. Logue says the investigation “was not being done correctly and in accordance with policy,” until he filed a complaint of his own after being tipped off. 

“There is such a huge difference between an internal affairs investigation and a chain-of-command review,” Logue told the Spokesman-Review.

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