A police constable has been cleared of using his dog as a weapon to “vent his contempt” for criminals.
Pc Paul Jackson, 36, was said to have deployed German shepherd dog Jerry to seriously injure five men who all abandoned cars that were being followed by police in Greater Manchester.
The Crown alleged dog handler Pc Jackson, from Radcliffe, went on the attack with Jerry in separate incidents between August 2015 and September 2016.
But the former lifeguard said he acted lawfully at all times in a reasonable and proportionate manner.
A jury at Preston Crown Court cleared Pc Jackson, from Radcliffe, of five counts of wounding with intent and five alternative counts of causing grievous bodily harm.
His Greater Manchester Police (GMP) colleague Pc Paul Lockett, 37, from Altrincham, was also found not guilty of aiding and abetting one of Pc Jackson’s alleged assaults and a second count of misconduct in a public office.
Pc Jackson wiped away tears after he and Pc Lockett were told by the judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, they could leave the dock and sit behind their lawyers.
Both officers nodded their thanks to jurors as they left the courtroom.
Pc Jackson was investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) after complaints about his use of Jerry and excessive violence while working for GMP’s tactical vehicle intercept unit.
The five complainants who gave evidence at the trial all have previous convictions – ranging from cannabis possession and driving offences to a career burglar and a convicted murderer.
Lee Junior Walker, 34, who was subsequently jailed for life after stabbing a man to death in 2017, claimed he was punched in the face and had his legs stamped on as Jerry was allowed to continue biting his arm.
The officer said no punches or blows were delivered, and he released Jerry after Walker struggled with the dog.
Career burglar Dale Kelly broke his foot and back when he fell into a stream while on the run and said he surrendered when confronted by Pc Jackson.
But the officer told the jury he released Jerry because Kelly was about to clamber over a wall and make good his escape.
He denied punching Kelly to the ground and then grabbing him by the leg and urging Jerry to continue biting him.
Two other men, Leighton Wheatland and Kieran Burke, also claimed they gave themselves up, but both were accused of lying and that their injuries came from resisting arrest.
Jurors watched infra-red helicopter footage which captured Pc Jackson striking a fifth man, Suleman Khan, from behind on a railway line.
Pc Jackson explained he saw Khan aiming kicks at Jerry and thought Khan was going to turn on him after Jerry had failed to take him down.
A struggle took place on the ground, he said, and he punched him several more times to get him off his body armour.
Pc Jackson denied he lost control in anger and allowed Jerry to bite his target while on the ground.
Jurors heard Pc Jackson had received three commendations – including two Chief Constable’s Awards – since he joined GMP in 2008.
In 2010 he rugby-tackled a man who doused himself in petrol and threatened to set himself alight with his family nearby.
Five years later, he helped detain a gang who robbed a farmhouse in Hull and tortured a couple.
His superior, Inspector Tariq Butt, told the jury Pc Jackson was the “ultimate professional” and added: “If I could clone the traits of a police dog handler it would be Pc Paul Jackson.”
Co-accused Pc Lockett also earned a Chief Constable’s Award for his role in apprehending the gangsters in the violent robbery in Hull.
He denied acting as lookout in the alleged wounding of Kelly and then failing to report the incident.
IOPC regional director Amanda Rowe said: “These were serious allegations against the officers which clearly required criminal investigation.
“We respect the jury’s decision. The evidence has been heard in full and has been properly scrutinised via the judicial process.
“The next steps are to complete the conduct matters for these officers. Greater Manchester Police agreed with our findings, and we await their response with regard to any further proceedings.”