A Victoria Police Department dog handler has been cleared of wrongdoing after a robbery suspect was bitten by a police dog and required 32 sutures.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C., the civilian agency that investigates all police incidents involving serious injury or death, said deployment of a police service dog under the circumstances of the arrest was “within the reasonable range of force options available.”
The IIO said the incident unfolded when two VicPD officers responded to a robbery call at a convenience store at 11:40 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Yates and Quadra streets. The call described a male suspect armed with a metal baton.
The officers, who were not subjects of the IIO investigation, located the suspect a block away still carrying the baton.
The suspect later admitted to the IIO that he was using intoxicants that day and “feeling high.”
A struggle ensued as the officers attempted to make an arrest and a third officer arrived and released a police dog, which bit the man on the head and upper leg. The suspect said he blacked out and woke up in an ambulance.
The suspect told the IIO he had dropped the baton and was handcuffed “when they let the dogs on me.”
The IIO investigation, however, discovered through officers and witness testimony as well as witness video, that the police dog “was neither deployed for an extended period nor after [the suspect] was handcuffed.”
The IIO said one officer kicked the baton out of the suspect’s hand after he refused to comply with an order to drop it.
The two officers were struggling to handcuff the suspect, and unable to effectively use a taser, as he resisted them. There was a move by the suspect to try get something out of his pocket.
He was later found to have a utility knife.
“It was not unreasonable for the [canine officer] to conclude that [the suspect] who was now uncontrolled and reaching into a pocket, potentially for another weapon, posed a real risk of bodily harm to an officer,” the IIO report said.
“In those circumstances, deployment of the [police service dog] to bite, while at the upper end of the range, was within the reasonable range of force options available.”
The man was treated at the scene and taken to hospital where he received 32 sutures for cuts and lacerations from dog bites.
The IIO noted in its report that over the past four years the agency has seen police-dog bite investigations increase from 10 to 27.
“Using [a police dog] to apprehend a suspect can cause serious injuries, so any increase in such cases is concerning,” the report said.
“In this case, though, while it might have been possible for [the officers] to have completed an arrest without the intervention of the police service dog, it cannot be said that it was unreasonable for them to believe that assistance from the subject officer and the dog was necessary.”
IIO chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald said there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the officer committed an offence and the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.
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