Gruesome Broward sheriff's deputy K-9 attack leads to lawsuit

Alleged victim: 'They fed me to an animal'

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - Humberto Pellegrino and Pedro Claveria admit they were breaking the law one morning, but said they didn't deserve what happened after they were caught.

When they were spotted at 2 a.m. in a Pompano Beach train yard, it was assumed by a nearby security guard and later by Broward Sheriff's Office deputies that they were there to break into nearby businesses. But the men, who are muralists and street artists, were there with two friends to paint train cars.

While they brought their spray paint cans out of a duffel bag, deputies swooped in from the ground while a BSO chopper hovered overhead. The men hid under a train.

"There was a dog and I saw an assault rifle and I was like, 'Oh wow, I think those are the cops,'" said Pellegrino, a 37-year-old works as a graphic designer and also owns has a clothing line. "We complied, we never tried to run, we never ran an inch from where we were at."

BSO deputies reports don't refute that, but BSO Detective Davis Acevedo, who handles a K-9 partner named Dino, reported that Pellegrino and Claveria refused to come out from under the train.

"It's a bold lie," Claveria said. "I came out and the first thing I said was, 'Here are my hands. I'm sorry. I give up.'"

He said despite that Acevedo let the dog loose on him while Deputy Gerald "Gerry" Wengert, a former reality TV star who was acquitted by a jury in 2013 of criminal charges he unleashed his police dog on a suspect and lied about it on reports, aimed an assault rifle at his head.

"It was him ripping into me and gnawing," Claveria said. "I've never had an animal attack me that way and it felt like it was never going to stop."

The dog tore deep into Claveria's arm, leaving large permanent scars behind. Pellegrino says that while his friend screamed for mercy he laid face down on the gravel terrified, his arms extended.

"I was in horror," Pellegrino said. "We weren't resisting and we weren't doing anything so I was in shock that they would (sic) the dog on my friend."

Acevedo wrote in his report that Pellegrino also refused to surrender, prompting him to let Dino loose on him after the attack on Claveria. Pellegrino swears he was fully surrendered when he heard the deputies talking about what was about to happen.

"One said, 'I think he's ready to eat again,' and someone said, 'Oh, I think he's still hungry," Pellegrino said.

He said he then felt a tug on his leg.

"Wengert lifted my leg in front of the dog's mouth so the dog attached to my leg," he said. "Acevedo was behind me with the dog and Wengert was to my left with the assault rifle pointing at me ... I just grabbed onto the gravel and started screaming."

He said Wengert and Acevedo then actually moved Dino to his other leg so the dog could get a better hold on his flesh.

"He got a really grip on my leg, right under the knee, and I felt my leg tearing and they kept saying, 'Eat boy, eat boy,'" Pellegrino said. "Every time he would latch onto me, they would yank him, so not only was I being bit, but I was being torn. So I just yelled as loud as I could in agony."

He said he had no choice but to suffer what he says was an incredibly painful attack.

"I thought they were going to kill me," he said. "Either sit here and let this dog eat you or do something stupid and get shot in the head."

The dog would ultimately tear into his leg nearly to the bone, leaving a grotesque gash in his leg that would require a four-day hospitalization.

"I have never seen dog bites like this," said attorney David Brill, who has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Scott Israel and three of the deputies involved, alleging excessive force. "The wound is tantamount to seeing a knife wound in battle."

"I never thought it would go that far, where they would feed a person to a canine," said Pellegrino, his voice breaking. "The only thing I could compare it to is if a girl got raped. ... They fed me to an animal."

Claveria was hospitalized for three days. Both said they lost muscle tissue and suffered permanent nerve damage. Pellegrino said his night of horror continued at the hospital, where he said the deputies seemed proud of the size of the wound that had been inflicted on him by the K-9.

"They were taking pictures with their cellphones inviting all the K-9 cops to come in there and take a look," he said. "Taking pictures, people that weren't even involved in our case ... and giggled and chuckled."

Both men said deputies seemed disappointed when they opened up their duffel bag and saw only spray paint and art supplies. Nevertheless, deputies charged all four of the men with burglary and criminal mischief, felonies that were later dropped by prosecutors. They wound up pleading guilty to trespassing for which they were ordered to pay court costs.

They claim that the "ringleader" that night was Wengert, a deputy who also once starred in a reality TV show called "Broward K-9" on the TLC Channel.

"I was terrified by this guy," Claveria said. "I could see the look in his eye, he just looked like he was an animal just stalking, preying."

Pellegrino said the deputies during his hospital stay were all extremely professional and some even told him to take his story to internal affairs. He said when he got home, he Googled BSO's internal affairs division.

"And lo and behold Wengert's face popped up," Pellegrino said. "And I figured out who he was."

Thursday night in Part 2 is a look at the long trail of excessive force allegations -- complete with more suspect photos -- made against Wengert pointed at this question: Should Wengert even have been on the road that night?

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