Natalie Diaz couldn't find a parking place when she stopped at an Oaklyn, Camden County, convenience store, so she left her car near the parking lot exit while she bought a cup of coffee. Minutes later, after a brief police pursuit, Diaz was attacked by a police dog, she alleges in a newly filed federal lawsuit.
When Diaz came out of the store that night in 2016, the suit says, a police officer screamed at her to move her car, then followed her as she headed to her Collingswood home. The police officer ordered her to get out of her car, a struggle ensued, and a second officer released a dog to attack Diaz, according to the suit. The dog tore through her clothing and ripped into the flesh of her left leg, the suit says.
Oaklyn police used excessive force, a lawyer for Diaz contends in the suit, ordering the dog to attack without justification as Diaz sat in her parked car with its engine turned off and driver's door wide open.
Diaz, then 36, became "frightened and disoriented" as an officer approached her car and began "yelling" at her, which is why Diaz did not immediately get out, according to the lawsuit.
A police dashcam video obtained by the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com shows Sgt. Jayne Jones following Diaz's blue Crown Victoria and attempting to pull Diaz over for 96 seconds as she drove the half-mile to her home before she parked. Officer Matthew Olivieri then arrived with his K-9, Enzo. Less than a minute after he arrived, Olivieri can be heard on the video ordering the dog to "get her." Diaz had serious dog-bite injuries to her left leg, according to the suit. Diaz alleges she is permanently scarred, physically and emotionally.
Oaklyn Police Chief Mark Moore said in an interview this week that the department's internal affairs officer reviewed the incident in 2016, which is standard procedure, and determined Olivieri's use of Enzo was justified. Moore said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but confirmed Olivieri and Jones are still on the force. The officers, through the department, declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
Last week, Diaz pleaded guilty to eluding police and attempting to injure a law enforcement animal. Sentencing is scheduled for May 25.
Diaz's lawyer, Thomas Gosse, declined comment on the lawsuit and her criminal case. Efforts to reach Diaz for comment were not successful.
The lawsuit alleges Jones and others in the convenience-store parking lot screamed at Diaz when she returned to the parking lot and was told to move her car. In police reports, Jones contends that Diaz cursed her and refused to move her car to a parking space while the officer wrote a citation, instead pulling onto the White Horse Pike, nearly causing a collision. Jones said Diaz tried to hit her with her elbow and swung at her head with her fist.
The incident unfolded Feb. 2, 2016, around 7:20 p.m. when Jones was stopped at a nearby light and saw Diaz park in the 7-Eleven lot at White Horse Pike and West Clinton Avenue.
Here's what the dashcam video shows:
Diaz got into her car, turned west on the Pike toward Collingswood.
"All right, it looks like it's going to be an attempt to stop," Jones said in a radio transmission as she began following Diaz using her lights and siren. The officer, sounding calm throughout the short pursuit, noted Diaz was driving toward her home, at one point traveling 33 mph. The speed limit is 30 mph.
About a minute and a half after the pursuit began, Diaz parked at an apartment complex, Heights of Collingswood, on North Newton Lake Drive. Jones parked behind Diaz, approached the vehicle and said: "Get out of the car. … I'm trying to get her out of the car. … Are you trying to get arrested?"
Within seconds, at least three other police cruisers arrived. Olivieri took Enzo from the backseat of his patrol car, and struggled to control the dog as he rushed toward Diaz and Jones.
Less than 30 seconds after Olivieri arrived, he shouted, "Jayne, get back!" and then repeatedly yelled at Diaz, "Get out of the car, or you're gonna get bit." About 20 seconds later the officer instructs Enzo, "Get her," and Diaz started to scream. She was pulled from the car with Enzo's mouth clamped on her left leg. Within seconds, officers physically forced Diaz to the ground and Olivieri tugged at Enzo to release Diaz. Another officer put Diaz in handcuffs and she said to him, "You let that dog attack me. Really?"
Diaz, limping, lost her balance as police led her away. According to police reports, Olivieri administered first aid until an ambulance arrived and took Diaz to Cooper University Medical Care in Camden.
According to the lawsuit, the dog "viciously attacked and bit" Diaz, "tearing holes into her clothing and ripping her leg open," causing her to "bleed profusely" and causing permanent scars and disfigurement. The suit alleges the officers are not properly trained in using a police dog, or properly supervised.