A Wake County sheriff’s deputy shouldn’t have unleashed his dog on Kyron Hinton, who was unarmed and standing in the middle of the street on April 3, according to a law professor who studies force used by police.
Seth Stoughton, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said a police dog should not have been used at all during law enforcement’s encounter with 29-year-old Hinton that night in Raleigh.
The incident, which Hinton said left him with broken bones, dog bites and memory loss, has led to criminal charges against a sheriff’s deputy and two North Carolina State Highway Patrol troopers.
Hinton’s case comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of police across the country, particularly their treatment of African-American men. It also raises questions about when and how police dogs should be used.
“The deployment of the dog in this case is one of the more egregious uses of force I’ve seen,” said Stoughton, who worked as a police officer in Florida for five years and has written for national media outlets on use-of-force policies.
Stoughton says he thinks the situation with Hinton could have been resolved with minimal or no force if the sheriff’s deputy, Cameron Broadwell, had not arrived with a dog. Broadwell was too quick to unleash the dog, and he should have communicated with the officers who were already on the scene before rushing in, Stoughton said.
“Officers can’t just react to the situation as they imagine it,” he said. “They have to calibrate their reactions to the situation as it exists.”
The Wake County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment this week. Sheriff Donnie Harrison told television station WRAL in May that K-9 units are useful tools in searching for missing people, suspects and drugs.
"Their nose will let us know that the person is close by,” Harrison told the station. “It keeps an officer from getting hurt. They're invaluable.”
Hinton was yelling out and standing in the middle of Raleigh Boulevard near Yonkers Road on the night of April 3 when several people called 911. Some said he appeared to have a gun, although he was unarmed.
A Highway Patrol trooper was the first arrive at about 10:35 p.m., according to a court petition filed this month by Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. Three Raleigh police officers soon joined the trooper, and the four of them formed a perimeter around Hinton and continued to observe his behavior.
At 10:38 p.m., Highway Patrol troopers Michael G. Blake and Tabitha L. Davis arrived, along with Broadwell, the sheriff’s deputy.
Police dashboard cameras reveal that Broadwell quickly retrieved his dog, Loki, from his vehicle and approached Hinton, telling him three times, “Get on the ground or you’re gonna get bit.”
Within seconds, Broadwell unleashed the dog and struck Hinton, who fell to the ground. The other officers then converged on Hinton.
Broadwell, who was indicted on felony assault charges, has been placed on administrative leave.
“The whole situation was very aggressive,” said Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who has studied race and the criminal justice system. “Bright lights, dogs barking. It seemed the opposite of what you’d want to de-escalate the situation.
“I don’t know why there was even a dog there in the first place, much less that the dog was released on that poor individual.”
Stoughton said the subsequent beating of Hinton likely wouldn’t have occurred if Broadwell hadn’t brought in the dog.
A Wake County Sheriff’s Office policy says patrol canines are used to “contact, seize and hold an actively resisting suspect unless and until the handler calls off the canine." The policy also says "decisions to deploy a patrol canine to apprehend a suspect shall be based upon the totality of the circumstances," including the severity of the crime or whether a suspect is resisting arrest.
Force is warranted, the guidelines say, when all other means of resolving a situation have failed.
Paul Gessner, a legal adviser for the sheriff’s office, cited ongoing litigation of the case and declined to comment when asked if the deputy had used other means to resolve the situation.
Stoughton said Hinton was not actively resisting police, based on police videos released by a judge.
“It did not look like Mr. Hinton was presenting a threat to officers or anyone else,” he said. “He was just standing there.”
Hinton has said he was upset that night after he lost his money at a sweepstakes parlor off of Capital Boulevard. He said he was walking downtown when police approached him in the middle of the street.
The sheriff’s office charged him with disorderly conduct, resisting a public officer and assault on a law enforcement animal, but prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charges.
Hinton’s mother, Vicki Hinton, has said her son struggles with mental-health issues and addiction. She called 911 on June 3 and told a dispatcher that her son needed help. He had also called 911 to report a shooting near his mother’s house in southern Wake County, but officers found no evidence of a shooting.
Hinton was transported to WakeMed and was cited for kicking a sheriff’s deputy.
The Highway Patrol fired Blake and Davis, nearly a month after they were also charged with felony assault in the Hinton case.
Davis admitted that she hit Hinton in the head with a flashlight and that his face had been mashed on the ground, according to a court petition. Meanwhile, Blake said he kicked Hinton in the ribs and can be heard on police video repeatedly telling other officers to strike Hinton in the head.
The day after Blake and Davis were fired, their supervising officer, Sgt. R.W. Goswick, was placed on administrative duty. Goswick was overheard on Davis’ dash cam telling his officers to report that they did not use force during the incident.
Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Baker declined to comment specifically on the Hinton case. But he pointed to a department policy that identifies flashlights as “standard impact weapons.” Troopers should not intentionally strike the head or neck of a suspect “unless deadly force is justified,” according to the policy.
The Raleigh police officers at the scene that night weren’t charged because a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation found their actions were not “excessive or in violation of state law under the circumstances,” said Freeman, the district attorney.
Baumgartner, the UNC professor, said the Hinton case shows that police often have a “one-size-fits-all” response to 911 calls. Hinton likely needed services beyond what police could provide.
“There’s only one 911 number. You call them for everything,” he said. “Sometimes it needs to be a psychologist, or someone with a different set of skills. It could be an issue of mental illness, addiction, intoxication. We should have another agency with people who could respond more as a medical agency when people are in distress.”