Published: Thursday, September 5, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.

A woman bitten by a police dog six years ago went to court Wednesday alleging Gainesville Police used excessive force in the incident.

Jurors in an Alachua County courtroom heard opening statements in the case against the city of Gainesville and Police Sgt. Allan Willis.

Sharon Whitehead, now 22, was 16 when she was bitten by a police dog, attorneys said. In August 1996, she had escaped from the county's halfway house near 39th Avenue and was being tracked by Willis and a dog named Branco. The dog, which was on a 15-foot leash, found Whitehead and two other girls who had escaped with her.

John Jopling, the attorney for Willis and the city, said that before Willis was aware of the girls, the dog had bitten Whitehead on the leg. The officer immediately tried to pull the dog off Whitehead.

"In no manner was she treated unprofessionally," he said.

Jopling also said Willis will testify that he had no intention of having the dog bite Whitehead, who had escaped from the halfway house before.

An investigation by the department into the matter found that Willis handled the incident properly, Jopling said.

The bite did not injure the muscle in Whitehead's leg, but she had to be treated for possible infection and required several visits to the hospital, said her attorney, Robert Rush. The injury also caused Whitehead to have nightmares.

Rush called the incident a battery and said it was an unreasonable seizure of a person because the force used was unnecessary. The girl, he said, was nonviolent and nonresistant.