Video of Officer Punching Police Dog in the Face Sparks Investigation

An investigation has been launched after footage emerged of a California officer appearing to punch a trainee police dog in the face.

The clip, which was taken in Vacaville and posted on social media on Tuesday, showed an officer sat on top of the canine in a parking lot before striking it with his right hand.

According to police, the incident happened during a training exercise and the animal had become aggressive towards the officer shortly before the video was taken.

The scenes elicited an angry response on Facebook, where it has been shared more than 300 times and received more than 400 comments.

Local resident Roberto Palomino said he shot the video as he was collecting tools from his truck in Vaca Valley Parkway at around 12:15 p.m. that day.

"It was like 'ohhh' cries; the dog was crying like someone was running him over or something," he told TV station ABC7. "It was bad."

Although a single punch was recorded in the 25 second clip, Palomino alleges that the officer hit the dog about 10 times.

"I was shocked. It got me completely confused. Never seen anything like that before," he told local newspaper The Reporter. "He was beating his partner, his coworker, his best friend."

He added: "I just hope the dog's OK and is removed from him, gets a better partner at least."

Newsweek has contacted Palomino for comment.

Discussing the incident, Vacaville Police Captain Matt Lydon—not the officer seen in the video—told The San Francisco Chronicle that the officer straddled the dog in a standard position of "dominance" after the canine lunged and tried to bite the officer.

Lydon told the newspaper the 1.5-year-old male Belgian Malinois mix performed well in a narcotics training exercise and was rewarded with a toy, but then did not want to give the toy up.

'Physical discipline'

In a statement to Newsweek, the City of Vacaville said an independent third-party with expertise in police canine training will be retained to evaluated the officer's actions, as well as review Vacaville Police Department's policies and procedures and its canine training program.

"Once the review is complete, the City of Vacaville will take appropriate action – including any necessary discipline and/or training, as well as any needed changes to policies and procedures to ensure the police department's canine program is in line with industry best practices," it said.

Officials added that the dog has been separated from the officer and is under the care of a non-police canine trainer, pending the investigation.

In a Facebook post earlier on Tuesday, the police department said it did "understand how disturbing the video appears," but that the clip did not provide the full picture.

"What the video doesn't show is the moments prior, when the canine became aggressive towards his handler," the department said in a Facebook post.

It said: "All training programs are not alike and need to be tailored to the needs of the specific dog and handler. This is generally achieved by a careful balance of physical discipline and reward based training."

The department said it was "constantly evaluating" its canine training policies and procedures, and that the incident would be "evaluated in its entirety" and "investigated appropriately."

The statement had been shared about 350 times and received nearly 3,000 comments at the time of publication.

Among the responses, Rachel Renee Wilson wrote: "As someone who's married to a Master K9 Trainer who has trained many police and military dogs, there is no excuse for what was on that video.

Liz Frome posted: "Truly sad situation and action needs to be taken."

Christi Torrio said: "I'm sorry but there is no excuse for animal cruelty and from the video I just watched that's exactly what I see."

Anyone with information is asked to call Vacaville Police Department at 449-5200.

A police dog in New York
File photo: A video has emerged online appearing to show an officer punching a different police dog in Vacaville, northern California. Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic/Getty

Update at 5:10 a.m. ET on 12/31/20: This article has been updated to include a statement from the City of Vacavill. The file photo used to illustrate this story has also been changed.