A former suburban Atlanta-area police officer has been indicted on felony charges after prosecutors say he unlawfully directed a police dog to attack a man.
A Fulton County grand jury on Tuesday returned an indictment against former Alpharetta police officer Michael James Esposito. He’s charged with aggravated assault, aggravated battery and violating his oath as a public officer when Travis Moya was seriously injured in July 2021.
A working phone number for Esposito could not be immediately found, and no attorney who could comment on the charges was listed in court records. Alpharetta’s assistant city administrator declined to comment, citing pending litigation, but confirmed that Esposito had left the police department. Alpharetta is a suburb north of Atlanta.
Moya in July filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Alpharetta, the police chief and several officers, including Esposito. That suit remains pending.
According to that lawsuit, Moya’s family called 911 to request an ambulance and gave no indication that he had committed a crime, had a weapon or was in any way threatening. Several officers including Esposito, who was the handler for police dog Ares, were sent to the home.
Esposito was the first to arrive and his body camera video shows Moya standing in his driveway with his wife, the lawsuit says. Moya’s wife walked over to Esposito, who remained in the street, and said Moya had been breathing hard and crying, that he had punched a wall and thrown a chair, but didn’t say he had threatened anyone.
After Moya had been standing in the driveway for several minutes with his wife and young daughter, he turned to go back inside, and that’s when officers first told him to stop and come talk to them, the lawsuit says. He continued to walk toward his front door with his family, and two officers grabbed him and brought him to the ground, the suit says.
Moya didn’t resist but while officers were securing him on the ground, Esposito commanded Ares, the dog, to bite Moya’s arm. The dog first bit Moya’s jacket sleeve and then bit his arm and then “continued aggressively chewing and ripping out significantly large chunks of muscle and flesh” from Moya’s arm for “close to a minute” while three officers held him down, the lawsuit says.
The indictment accuses Esposito of “unlawfully directing a police canine to bite” Moya and “seriously disfigure his person.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Moya said he suffers nightmares and flashbacks but that the indictment is a step in the right direction.
“The sad thing in this situation is that it was deemed justified after the internal review by the police department,” said L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for Moya. He said that the video shows that the officers were going to use the dog regardless of whether it was justified.
“But that’s why we have this process and that’s why Fulton County spoke yesterday because they disagree that this was justified,” Stewart said. “They disagree that a citizen should be mauled like that to the point where officers have to come with a hose afterwards and hose the sidewalk off because there’s so much blood.”