VIDEO: Man escapes dog cage while detained in K-9 vehicle, deputies resign

A man escaped police custody while detained in the back of a police K-9 vehicle. (Source: WECT)
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 3:36 PM CDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) - An investigation continues in North Carolina, where two deputies are out of a job after an arrest of a man that went wrong.

The Pender County Sheriff’s Office reports the incident in question occurred on Feb. 27 when officers responded to a situation where a couple was fighting in a supermarket parking lot.

WECT reports a female deputy detained the woman, and a male deputy detained the man involved in the fight once they arrived at the scene, according to the sheriff’s office.

However, the male deputy’s patrol car was being repaired, and he was driving a K-9 handler’s car as a substitute vehicle.

The K-9 vehicle was equipped with a dog cage in the back instead of space to detain and transport suspects.

Authorities said the man involved in the fight was highly combative and armed with a gun. Deputies had to wrestle him to the ground to get him in handcuffs. Deputies then needed a place to put him and said they were advised by a supervisor that “a cage is a cage” and put the suspect in the back of the K-9 unit.

The backseat of the vehicle had plenty of space, but it had no seat or seat belts as it was designed to hold a dog.

Typically, deputies would have left immediately for jail, but they could not legally transport the suspect without a seat belt for him.

Therefore, police waited for backup to arrive with the proper transport vehicle. However, this took about 30 minutes, and during this time, the suspect got loose. According to the sheriff’s office, he managed to remove the dog door inside the deputy’s car and crawled into the front seat of the K-9 vehicle before leaving the scene.

WECT obtained body camera video of the incident in question.

Pender Co. Sheriff's Office releases body camera footage of an attempted arrest of a man in February. (Source: WECT)

About 19 minutes into the video, additional deputies arrived at the scene and the four officers strategized on how they will move the detainee.

The video then shows them holding leg shackles, a Taser and a service weapon as they prepare for a potentially combative transfer from the K-9 vehicle.

However, when they turned back around, the driver’s side door of the K-9 vehicle was open, and the man was gone.

The sheriff’s office confirmed the suspect was able to retrieve his gun, money and drugs during the escape.

About two hours after the arrest, the sheriff’s office put out a news release asking for the public’s help finding the suspect who escaped. But authorities had mistakenly identified the incorrect person as the suspect.

So, the sheriff’s office corrected the release the next day, but 30 days later, the original man in question remains on the loose.

After the escape, the deputies involved in the arrest were placed on administrative leave while the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation.

The deputies said they were not given the proper equipment to do their job, putting them in a dangerous position - setting the stage for the detainee to escape.

Both deputies resigned in the weeks that followed, saying that they felt they were being forced out despite their previously excellent track records.

The two also released a joint statement:

“On February 27, we were both assigned to the most populated side of the county and were given improper equipment to perform our duties as Law Enforcement Officers. While responding to a domestic situation later that evening, we encountered an armed, combative subject.

After struggling for several minutes and placing the person in custody, we were forced to secure the arrestee who was still being combative in the K-9 vehicle as our only option. This was the safest option to protect ourselves and the community.

As deputies, we performed our duties with the equipment and resources given and did nothing wrong that evening. We were both truthful in all aspects of the internal investigation but sadly were forced to resign. This is an unfortunate situation and a devastating action toward two amazing deputies by Sheriff Alan Cutler.”

An internal investigation continues, and Sheriff Alan Cutler maintains that the vehicle used that night was not the issue.

“I have not seen a problem in this investigation with him actually placing that individual in the backseat of that car. But, obviously, we need to keep our eyes on an individual while they’re in there for their safety and for the law enforcement safety,” Cutler said.

While policy change may eventually result from this incident, Cutler said at this point the K-9 vehicle continues to be used for routine patrols as needed due to vehicle shortages at the department.

“Our deputies definitely could have done things better that night. And I acknowledge that I’m ultimately responsible for the actions of our deputies, whether I’m with them or not. We’ve always tried to be transparent, and we will continue to be. Basically, the only thing we can do now is trying to do the right thing in the aftermath,” Cutler said.

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