Cleveland Co. family wants answers after young girl attacked by police dog

SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - A Cleveland County community is outraged after a young girl was attacked by a police dog while officers were trying to catch a wanted felon.

Four-year-old Karmen Wilson was in the hospital Monday undergoing reconstructive surgery to her arm after the K9 clinched onto her body.

Shelby police were in the process of issuing a warrant for Robert Sutton Jr, a man who had been on the run for two years. He was wanted for robbery, drugs, and other charges. Police say a chase began between officers and Sutton, which ended at the corner of Buffalo and Lineberger Streets.

Karmen Wilson just happened to be there too when the K9 went for her instead of Sutton. The way Shelby police were trying to catch Sutton has some residents upset.

"A dog should not have been in play to catch Mr. Sutton," said Vernon Brown.

Brown says before police released the K9 officer, Sutton stopped by his place to hide from officials. But, Brown said, he wanted no part of that.

"He had to go because I wasn't going to jail for harboring a fugitive," Brown said.

Brown says Sutton then jumped out the window of his home. That's when police tried using the K9 to catch him.

"He put his Carl Lewis jets on him so they had to let the dog run," Brown said.

Using the K9 in that situation is something Police Chief Jeff Ledford says was totally acceptable.

"He had felony warrants on him. They were violent felonies and drug felonies," Ledford said.

After jumping out the window, police say Sutton ran through traffic and opened the door of a car that was stopped at a light. Inside the car was Wilson, who then had the K9 going after her.

Neighbors began screaming and rushing to the dog to help the 4-year-old. The traumatic event has those who saw it and family members angry.

"Who wouldn't be [angry]? It's a 4-year-old child," said Robert Sutton Sr, the father of Sutton Jr and Wilson's uncle. He says while Wilson is in the middle of reconstructive surgery, the family may file a lawsuit.

"We'll go where we need to go with it," he said. "It's something that we'll discuss. It's a possibility."

Chief Ledford says the department is using body cameras to investigate the attack - and the K9 involved will be evaluated. The chief also added that they are willing to cover medical costs and will be checking in on Wilson.

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