One of the South Pasadena Police Department’s crime-fighting dogs has been removed from patrol rotation this week after it bit a young boy during the city’s National Night Out event on Tuesday evening at Orange Grove Park.
The child, Sebastian Forbes, 5, received several stitches at Huntington Hospital that night and was in good spirits, said his father, Josh, on Wednesday evening as the family enjoyed a stroll at the park. Besides the stitches near Sebastian’s left eye, the boy also had additional cuts and bite marks near his left ear and shoulder, the father said.
Police Chief Brian Solinsky said in an interview Wednesday that the dog would be reevaluated in the coming weeks. Solinsky also extended sympathies to the child and his family.
“It’s an unfortunate accident,” Solinsky added. “Certainly, my heart goes out to the family. I can only imagine the fear that they were facing, especially seeing that. Most importantly, the kid is all right. Nonetheless, I’m sure he’s shaken up and I’m sure the family is as well.”
Solinsky said the dog, Barry, was about to begin a second demonstration of his drug-detection abilities at the event at Orange Grove Park. A small crowd had formed a half-circle around the car where the dog and his handler were to display their skills. Solinsky said that, to his understanding, the boy had stepped out of the group and into the demonstration area suddenly, presumably to pet the dog, and Barry reacted and bit him.
“The K9 was spooked and reacted,” the chief said.
Josh Forbes, however, denied that his son had quickly moved within range of Barry. As the crowd gathered, Forbes said, another child had asked about petting the dog, to which the officer said no. By that point, Sebastian had stepped forward, Forbes said, but remained at least 10 feet away to his estimation.
Forbes said Sebastian has ocular albinism, a condition resulting in blurred vision, and the child’s mother thought he intended to get a clearer look at the dog. The father added that Sebastian was wearing a hat because of his condition and wondered if that might have triggered Barry.
“Who knows, but the dog saw something he didn’t like in my son and had lunged at him,” Forbes added. “In the blink of an eye, he pinned my son to the ground.”
Responding paramedics patched Sebastian up at the park and transported him to Huntington Hospital. Forbes said doctors needed to use ketamine as a sedative for Sebastian’s stitches and that the family finally left the hospital at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Solinsky said Barry, an 8-year-old Dutch shepherd, has been with the department for seven years. He serves as the SPPD’s narcotics dog — meaning he is not trained to be defensive or take down targets — while the department’s other K9 unit is trained in sniffing out explosives. Barry has performed demonstrations in “hundreds of events” without incident, Solinsky said, and receives regular training consistent with that of other police dogs.
“Due to the circumstance, we’re going to remove him from patrol until he can be reevaluated by training staff,” Solinsky added. “I think it’s a good reminder that even though he’s trained, a dog can make behavioral mistakes.”
Forbes, who said he and an officer had to both work to pull Barry off his son, said he was unhappy with the way officers initially responded to the incident, characterizing them as brushing it off in a case of “accidents happen.”
“In the moment, it felt more like they were concerned about protecting themselves than protecting a kid,” he added. “It’s a tricky situation and I understand that it’s difficult. In the heat of the moment, things are always difficult, but a little bit of compassion goes a long way.”