A West Fargo police officer did not use excessive force when he used a police dog on a Fargo man while arresting him for drug charges four years ago, a federal jury found Thursday, July 16.
After a three-day civil trial that started on Tuesday in Fargo's U.S. District Courthouse, jurors decided Sgt. Pete Nielsen did not release his dog Disco a second time while arresting Donivan Jay Weis at the Element Hotel, 925 19th Ave. E., meaning they had no reason to believe the officer used excessive force.
Weis brought the lawsuit against Neilsen and others in 2018. It was connected to police responding to a man wearing a black ski mask while sitting in a vehicle on March 23, 2016, at the West Fargo hotel.
While searching the vehicle and Weis for drugs, Weis reached to his waistband in an attempt to consume prescription drugs, according to court documents.
Nielsen, who feared Weis was reaching for a weapon, pushed Weis against the car and ordered him to stop, court documents said.
Weis refused to obey orders and fought with Neilsen before the officer deployed the now-retired police dog, Disco. The suspect was then brought to the ground and placed into handcuffs.
Weis, who was treated for injuries sustained in the arrest, eventually pleaded guilty to simple assault against a police officer. Subsequent charges were dismissed.
Weis alleged Neilsen, who also was injured, released Disco a second time, causing injuries to his wrist.
The jury did not find that to be the case.
The court previously dismissed other allegations, including that Neilsen hit him and used excessive force. Others were named in the suit, but a judge dismissed allegations against them as well, leaving Neilsen as the lone defendant.
"The West Fargo Police Department has vehemently denied any wrongdoing from the beginning of this process with these allegations, and stand by the actions of Sergeant Nielsen and retired K9 Disco," the department said.
Weis initially wanted to represent himself but was eventually appointed an attorney, Amanda Corey.
"My client is, of course, disappointed in the verdict yesterday, but it was a hard-fought case," Corey said in a statement. Given the difficulty of Section 1983 cases and their high rate of dismissal, he is glad to be one of the few who was given the chance to tell his story."
Section 1983 refers to federal lawsuits alleging law enforcement officers violated a person's civil rights.
Weis also was part of a now-dismissed lawsuit against the Cass County Jail that accused the facility of feeding pork to Muslim inmates.