'The dog was yelping': Video shows Vacaville officer punching K-9 partner

VACAVILLE, Calif. -- A Vacaville police officer's actions are now being questioned after he was caught on camera punching his K-9 partner in a parking lot.

"It was like 'ohhh' cries the dog was crying like someone was running him over or something," said Vacaville resident Roberto Palomino. "It was bad."

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Palomino said he was on his way to work Monday when he heard sounds of a dog yelping.

Roberto: "Before the video, I saw him give at least 10 punches to the dog. At least."
Stephanie: "How many minutes was the dog crying?"
Roberto: "I was able to notice for at least five minutes."

According to police, the officer was doing routine training in the back parking lot of Vacaville Fire Station 73. Vacaville Police Captain Matt Lydon says the K-9 handler was conducting a search for narcotics. The dog performed well in the training exercise and the handler rewarded his partner with a toy. But, the dog didn't want to give up the toy.

Matt Lydon: "The dog became angry with the handler and lunged in attempt to bite the handler."
Lydon confirmed the dog never bit the handler.
Stephanie: "Is punching a dog 10 times really necessary?"
Matt Lydon: "I'm not prepared to speak to anything that I did not observe myself."

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Renee Lancaster is a retired police officer and has been a K-9 handler for 22 years. She's trained police dogs for 15 different law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area.

"Would you train your K9 like that?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"No," Lancaster said. "Personally, I can't imagine having to get to that extent where you have to sit on your dog and punch it when you couldn't even see the dog moving."

Lancaster added there are many other ways to discipline your partner.

"Even if he's an inexperienced officer or didn't know what to do... that's not an excuse," she said.

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Captain Lydon said the K-9 handler seen in the footage has been a law enforcement officer for 11 years. He's one of the department's four K-9 handlers but is only a few months into the K-9 training program.

"The K-9 handler placed the dog in a position of dominance, which is common in police K-9 training," said Lydon. "To create that dominance and teach that dog who's in charge."

Stephanie: "Is that acceptable behavior?"
Matt Lydon: "We're always looking at better ways to train in compliance with policies and procedures."

Palomino tells the ABC7 I-Team it didn't seem like training.

"He was straight up beating the dog on the face," he said. "It was hard to watch."

According to Lydon, the video is being investigated. It's unclear if the officer will face any disciplinary action or had any previous complaints involving excessive force. The officer has roughly three months left of K-9 training.

Take a look at more stories by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team here.
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