MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Attorneys announced a lawsuit Monday over an altercation at The Shoppes at Bel Air in which a teen was allegedly bitten by a mall security dog.
Lawyers for the teens say the three and their 20-year-old chaperone were at the mall shopping for clothes when they were handcuffed by mall security on June 22, and one was reportedly bitten by the mall’s K-9.
16-year-olds Cameron Robinson and Zion Lett, 15-year-old Rodricus Johnson, and 20-year-old Nathanial Henderson spoke alongside their lawyers at Monday’s news conference announcing the lawsuit.
“I told him they were racist and he became aggressive and slammed me on my head,” said Robinson.
His lawyers say they were just horsing around as they were getting out of the car and walking into the mall. “Officer Kestler and his K9 unit come flying around the corner, hops out of the vehicle with his hands on his gun, and shoves the boys against the wall telling them to get the f*** against the wall,” said L. Chris Stewart, one of the boy’s attorneys.
Part of the arrest was caught on camera, the video shows someone being pinned to the ground.
“He told me I could have got worse than what the dog did, like saying he could have shot me,” said Cameron, about the incident.
Lawyers for the teens say Robinson accused a security guard of racially profiling the group, and the guard slammed the teen, who was handcuffed, to the ground and ordered the K-9 to attack the teen. Robinson’s lawyers say the dog bit the teen several times.
“He forced me to the ground aggressively and the let the dog out at me,” Robinson said. “I blacked out when he slammed me to the ground.”
Robinson says he spent two and a half days in the hospital.
“Just to see him sitting on the curb, bleeding, looking up at me crying, saying ‘Mama, they put the dog on me, I didn’t do anything,’ it just broke my heart,” said his mother, Calandra Smith.
The attorneys are calling on the dog’s handler to be fired.
The day the incident happened, Mobile Police responded to the mall for help “breaking up a fight involving several juveniles and a 20-year-old male,” according to police.
The following is MPD’s account of what happened next:
The mall’s K-9 unit (dog) exited the vehicle and grabbed the juvenile biting him on his arm. The juvenile was then taken into custody. Once the juvenile was in handcuff he attempted to reach into his pants pocket. Officers check the juvenile’s pocket and found him in possession of marijuana. The juvenile was transported to the hospital to be treated for the bite. The 16-year-old was later transported to Strickland Youth Center and charged with (disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana 2nd and resisting arrest). Nathaniel Henderson, 20 was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Henderson is Robinson’s step-brother. He explained, “I felt like I couldn’t do my job. I couldn’t protect nobody. The whole time I was asking them what we did, I’m the oldest I’m looking out for everyone.”
News 5 spoke with the K9 officer, Justin Kestler in November on the first day he and his K9, Kosmo, began patrolling.
“He’s highly trained, visual deterrent is what we’re looking for, as far as that goes,” said Kestler on November 15, 2018.
Robinson’s family and their attorneys are now demanding he is fired.
“He misused this dog, he doesn’t deserve to be working this K9,” said Stewart.
His lawyers add they don’t blame the dog for the attack. “They’re trained to stop when you say stop, they’re trained to attack when you say attack. This officer did not do that, he did not stop the dog, he commanded it to attack,” said Stewart.
The following statement is from the General Manager of The Shoppes at Bel Air:
“The safety and well-being of our guests and tenants is our top priority. We cannot comment on this incident and ask that you direct all questions to the Mobile Police Department. However, I can say that The Shoppes at Bel Air maintains a comprehensive security program that blends both visible and behind the scenes efforts. The K-9 Unit is an integral part of our security program and serves as a highly visible deterrent to crime in our center. While we are always reviewing our security procedures, we never publicly disclose our safety protocols because to do so would compromise their effectiveness.” — Thomas Richardson ,General Manager, The Shoppes at Bel Air