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Police dog bites tent resident

A homeless man is hurt when officers and their dog search a wooded area and end up with the wrong man.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- A few weeks ago, Clyde Hendrickson had a drink or two, then kicked back on the cot in his makeshift tent to listen to the radio.

All was peaceful until he heard yelling and commotion.

"It sounded to me just like a bunch of drunken rednecks," Hendrickson said.

He put on his shoes and stepped outside into the wooded area off 62nd Avenue and 49th Street N where he periodically makes his home.

"The next thing I know, I have this dog on me, grabbed hold of my foot," Hendrickson said.

Pinellas Park police owned the dog, which had been following the scent of someone who had tried to steal a car. The police officers were close behind. When they saw Hendrickson, they thought maybe he was their suspect.

He wasn't.

Officers got the dog to release Hendrickson and called paramedics, who said Hendrickson needed a doctor. Police officers carried him to nearby Northside Hospital, where Hendrickson received a tetanus shot. Officers later returned the injured man to his campsite.

Hendrickson said the officers never apologized for the mistake.

Then the foot swelled, Hendrickson said, and he was unable to put on his shoe which is "full" of dog bite holes. He returned to Northside and got some antibiotics.

Now Hendrickson, 46, wants Pinellas Park to pay his medical bills of about $350.

"I was minding my own business," Hendrickson said. "Not only that, they were out of their own jurisdiction. . . . I expect them to pay the hospital bill at least."

Pinellas Park police Chief David Milchan agreed earlier this month that the dog had bitten an innocent man, but he defended the officers' actions, saying they called for Hendrickson to come out.

"He didn't believe they were police," Milchan said of Hendrickson. "He was scared because I guess he's been attacked before by people.

"It's one of those things. We felt real bad about it. We took him to the hospital and got him patched up. As far as I know, he's still living in the woods."

Sgt. Sandy Forseth, the Police Department's public information officer, said officers had a right to be outside the city limits. If the dog is tracking, then that's considered "fresh pursuit," and Pinellas Park officers would have jurisdiction.

"That's apparently what happened in this situation," Forseth said.

Forseth said he was unaware of any liability claim Hendrickson might have against the city.

Jim Johnson, the head of Pinellas Park's Risk Management department, said he's also unaware of any claim. Johnson said he'd heard of the incident but did not know Hendrickson wanted payment for his medical bills.

The proper thing for Hendrickson to do, said Johnson, is to call him in Risk Management. Then the city would forward the claim to its insurance carrier, which would decide whether to pay Hendrickson.

Hendrickson just feels he's getting the runaround. That wouldn't happen, he said, if he were wealthy or could hire a lawyer.

"I'm just a homeless person doing day labor," he said. "They know damn well they can get away with it. . . .That's what galls me."

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