BRENTWOOD, Calif. - WARNING: Viewer discretion advised. This story has disturbing visual elements.
A woman had her scalp torn off by a Brentwood police dog after she shoplifted thousands of dollars from a nearby mall, video obtained by KTVU shows, raising serious questions about when and why K-9 units are deployed.
Talmika Bates, then 24, is seen in the video provided by her lawyers screaming and wailing in pain. The skin on top of her head was ripped off exposing blood and bone.
"Help me! The dog is biting me," she screams. "My whole brain is bleeding!"
The police officer in the video responds: "We're going to help you…but you shouldn't run from the police."
Bates talked about her painful recovery in an interview with KTVU on Wednesday.
"I really thought I was going to die," she said. "I really didn’t think that I was going to be able to tell this story and really explain to nobody. It’s just traumatizing. It's just sad."
She said she was taken directly to jail after doctors sewed her scalp back on at John Muir hospital in Walnut Creek. She said her hair still doesn't grow around her wounds.
"I feel ugly," she said. "I get miserable I get depressed. I'm not happy with myself. I don’t even feel cute."
Her civil rights attorneys, Adante Pointer and Patrick Buelna, filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday night alleging that the city and police department caused her severe injury because of police negligence and violation of policy. They also allege that this police tactic is reminiscent of the darkest times in U.S. history.
"This unbridled use of an apparent blood thirsty dog to track, hunt and then attack an unarmed fleeing woman as she lay in a set of bushes harkens back to the days of slavery and slave catchers," Pointer wrote in the suit.
In an interview Wednesday morning, Pointer added that he was incensed that police would send an "attack dog" to harm such a "low level offender" and then "sit casually back" and watch her suffer in pain.
"It is just so callous," Pointer said. "They obviously didn't see this person as a human."
The Brentwood police department did not immediately respond for comment on Wednesday. Neither did the city attorney's office nor the city manager. Efforts to speak to Officer Ryan Rezentes' attorney were also not immediately successful.
No one from the city answered whether there were any repercussions for what the dog did to Bates during her arrest.
According to the city's website, Rezentes and his German Shepherd "Marco," are still employed and working in the department. They are featured on the K-9 page of the city's website, and the community is encouraged to say "hi" to them both if they seem them.
The issue of police dog bites have come under increased scrutiny as of late raising questions of when it's appropriate to use a K-9, if these dogs are being weaponized and if officers are being properly trained when – and when not – to deploy them.
The Bay Area News Group focused in on the Richmond Police Department where dog bites were documented in 60% of the 122 use-of-force cases that resulted in great bodily injury from 2014 to 2019. The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a case where San Ramon police released a dog that badly mauled an Uber driver who had missed a rental payment.
Marco and Brentwood Police Officer Ryan Rezentes.
In this case, the video and lawsuit focus on what happened to Bates on the afternoon of Feb. 10, 2020, after an employee of Ulta called police to say that three young women had shoplifted several thousand dollars worth of cosmetic products including Channel perfume from the store. In a Facebook post, Brentwood police said the dollar amount was valued at $10,000. Bates was arrested with two other women and a getaway driver.
Brentwood police came out and started searching the neighborhood for the women.
Rezentes found Bates hiding in a field behind some bushes along Empire Way.
In violation of his training and the law, Rezentes sicced Marco on Bates without providing any warning or a reasonable opportunity to surrender, the lawsuit contends. This portion of the video was not provided. In fact, the video is hard to see as it is so shaky, but the audio is clear.
Even though it's not clear in the video, sounds indicate that Marco attacked Bates, who was hiding in the bushes, biting off portions of her scalp, despite her pleas to call the dog off.
Bates kept crying out for help. And the dog kept biting.
Ultimately, Rezentes began commanding the canine to "heel" in German. But Marco ignored these commands while Bates screamed and begged for her life. Nearly one minute later, Rezentes commanded his dog to heel again, which Marco ignored a second time.
Officers demanded that she exit the bushes, as she cried for medical attention and for her mother.
And finally, Rezentes went into the bushes himself to physically remove Marco from Bates' head.
Bates was left on the ground, "mangled and paralyzed with fear," the suit states.
Rezentes yelled at Bates to get up, as leaves and twigs scraped against her open head wounds. Eventually, she was able to stand and officers placed her in handcuffs, while berating her for running from police "as if getting her head bit and mauled by a vicious canine was a lawful and appropriate punishment for her crimes," the suit states.
As she left the bushes, the video shows large chunks of Bates' scalp ripped from her head, exposing bone and blood tissue.
WARNING: This picture is disturbing.
Tamika Bates Feb. 10, 2020 after a Brentwood police dog mauled her head.
But the insult to Bates didn't stop there, the suit alleges.
Rezentes prepared a police report detailing the incident, which "conspicuously fails to mention the fact that he permitted Marco to needlessly maul Ms. Bates or that he lost control of Marco as Marco attacked and seriously injured Ms. Bates."
In fact, Rezentes claimed in his police report that he did not have the benefit of a cover officer which prevented him from physically removing the dog from gnawing on Bates head.
However, Rezentes' partner's body worn camera showed that he was standing next to Rezentes with his gun drawn while reassuring his colleague that he wouldn't shoot Marco.
Bates was later transported to John Muir Medical Center Walnut Creek for emergency medical care where surgeons were able to reattach her scalp.
But Bates, now 26 and a student who lives in Oakland, continues to suffer from headaches, memory loss and depression.
She pleaded guilty felony grand theft and recently resolved her criminal case. Court records show she spent 120 days in jail and is on probation for a year. The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office shows that her restitution amount has not yet been set.
Tamilka Bates tries to get up after being bitten by a police dog. Feb. 10, 2020
Tamilka Bates said her hair won't grow back after being mauled by a police dog.
KTVU reporter Evan Sernoffsky contributed to this report.