A woman is suing two U.S. Marshals after a police K-9 attacked her in her bedroom while officers were trying to arrest her boyfriend on a misdemeanor charge.
Evy Orellana, who was 20 at the time, was left with 45 stitches in her left thigh, and believes the stress from the attack later caused her to miscarry.
On July 3, 2018 at 2 a.m., about 10 U.S. Marshals showed up at Orellana’s home in Riverdale, Maryland, with rifles, a dog and a ballistic shield, according to her lawyer. They were after her boyfriend Eric Trinidad on a misdemeanor charge for an incident from weeks earlier, when he allegedly threw a cellphone at her during a fight. Orellana had tried to withdraw the charge.
The marshals pulled Trinidad’s mom, stepdad, brother, and teenage sister out of their rooms in the upstairs of the house before approaching a door downstairs that was sealed off with insulation to separate the basement suite, where Orellana and Trinidad lived with their 4-month-old daughter. The officers did not try the outside door the couple typically uses to enter and exit the suite.
Orellana said her and Trinidad were awoken by the commotion upstairs and thought they were being robbed. They opened their bedroom door but said they got no warning before the dog came rushing in.
“I remember looking out the door and I could see this black shadow coming towards me,” Orellana told VICE World News. The next thing she knew, the dog sunk its teeth into her left thigh and started “grinding” its head into her flesh for what she remembers being several minutes.
“I went into shock because I didn’t know where the dog came from; I didn’t know what was going on. I feared for my life. I was just screaming for help.”
Trinidad stood in front of the baby’s crib, also screaming, to protect their baby.
The officers said in court documents they gave three clear warnings in English and Spanish before breaking down the door and releasing the dog, Dart, off leash.
The marshals claimed they feared an “ambush,” despite having cleared the rest of the house before coming to the sealed door. They said they released the K-9 on its own because they could only get the door open enough to fit the dog through. They also claimed, however, that two officers rushed in within seconds to pull Dart off Orellana’s leg.
They said the dog-worn K9 Storm monitor, which would normally give a live camera feed to its handler, Ryan Godec, “wasn’t working at the time.”
A spokesperson for the agency declined to speak with VICE News on record, stating, “The U.S. Marshals Service does not comment on pending litigation.”
Orellana said she worried she would lose her leg and laid in “excruciating pain” while officers questioned her that morning. She was taken to the emergency room at University of Maryland Prince Georges Hospital Centre and left with 45 stitches and a $6,200 hospital bill.
Orellana did not realize she was pregnant at the time of the attack, and had a miscarriage three months later that she attributes to the distress she suffered. She said she is still attending physical therapy and gets frequent sharp pains that feel like someone is poking her with a knife.
She said she has also undergone extensive psychological counselling for severe depression, anxiety, emotional distress and trauma as a result of the incident. She has nightmares, has developed a fear of big dogs, and gets anxiety attacks when she hears loud noises.
“It’s been overwhelming for me,” Orellana said.
“I deserve justice.”
Her lawsuit alleges the officers’ actions “completely violated” her dignity, were “extreme and outrageous” and “exceeded or went beyond all possible bounds of decency.”
Her lawyer, Bobby Malek, said there was no reason for U.S. Marshals to be at the couple’s home in the first place.
The federal policing agency said in court documents that its Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force was “asked to assist with Trinidad’s apprehension.” According to the agency’s website, U.S. Marshals task forces “combine the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend the most dangerous fugitives and assist in high-profile investigations.”
Trinidad’s public court history shows several domestic violence misdemeanors but nothing to indicate he would be armed or dangerous to officers. The Marshals’ search of the home did not turn up weapons or drugs, and a prosecutor later dropped the charges against him.
“That they would adopt a misdemeanor warrant in district court, in a local county, for somebody who had no known criminal history, no gang affiliation; he’s a working guy—he has two companies, he has multiple children—it’s just odd that they would show up in these numbers and with this tone,” Malek said.
Kate Levine, a professor at New York’s Cardozo School of Law and an expert in criminal procedure, said the tactics used seem “excessive on every level” for a misdemeanor arrest.
She said the case highlights problems with knock-and-announce warrants in the U.S. The warrants do not require police to wait a specified amount of time after announcing their presence, meaning they can legally break a door down within seconds.
“There’s been a lot of stuff around getting rid of no-knock warrants after the killing of Breonna Taylor… Unless you get rid of this kind of night raid, you’re still going to end up with violence against people who are asleep in their beds,” Levine said.
“This is a good example of something that may have been legal, but still leads to outcomes that seem really at odds with any goal of maintaining public safety.”
Orellana is suing the U.S. government for $400,000 for battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and is suing Godec and officer Tristan Martin for a combined $600,000 for unreasonable search and seizure violating her fourth amendment right.
Malek has set up a GoFundMe to help cover legal costs.
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