B.C.’s policing watchdog has cleared a Victoria police dog handler of wrongdoing in an early 2022 case where the animal bit a man in the head and lower body during an arrest.
The Independent Investigation Office, a civilian oversight agency that looks into police-involved incidents that cause death or serious harm, said Thursday the circumstances meant the officer didn’t commit an offence.
Just before midnight on Jan. 29, two Victoria police officers approached a man who was suspected of theft from a downtown convenience store and threatening staff with a metal baton. One of the officers reported that the suspect walked toward him with the baton in hand and a fixed stare, while the other officer kicked the weapon out of the man’s hand from behind. The suspect stated he dropped the baton when he saw police.
After pulling the man face-down to the ground, both officers told IIO investigators, the suspect’s left hand was underneath his body and moving around and they couldn’t handcuff him. Both officers noted the possibility of the man having another weapon.
The dog handling officer arrived one minute after the others made contact and was told the suspect couldn’t be cuffed. One officer said the man turned toward the police service dog, which then bit him in the head area, before the handler directed the dog onto the man’s leg area.
Officer accounts and witness video capturing the latter part of the arrest found the dog bit the man’s leg area for about five seconds before being pulled off, after which the suspect was cuffed. Officers found an X-acto knife in the jacket of the man, who needed 32 stitches for bite lacerations.
The suspect, who told the IIO he felt “high” after using an intoxicating substance that day, also said the dog bit him after he was handcuffed, an allegation the IIO stated was not supported by evidence.
The case covered whether the dog handler’s use of force through the police dog was necessary and proportionate to the risk the suspect posed to officers. The IIO noted police dog investigations have increased over the last four years – a trend it says is concerning.
While the IIO finding stated it may have been possible for the initial responding officers to arrest the suspect without the police dog intervention, it found their belief reasonable that assistance from the handler and dog was necessary.
Black Press Media asked VicPD about the arrest getting to the point where the police dog was needed in the first place, and if better training around subduing potentially dangerous suspects is needed. On Friday, VicPD said the file will now be reviewed by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, so it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.
The suspect reaching under their body while resisting arrest wouldn’t, on its own, satisfy the claim that he was reaching for a weapon and thus justify the use of force, the decision said.
Considerations in the decision included that the suspect had a weapon during the robbery; that they moved toward the officer “seemingly with intent” to use the baton while refusing to drop it; and he seemed to be reaching for something else. Those factors made it reasonable to believe the man may have had another weapon, the IIO stated.
“It is unfortunate that the dog first struck at (the man’s) head, but worth noting that it was immediately moved to a less potentially dangerous location.”
Black Press Media also asked VicPD why a police dog was able to bite the man’s head area while under the handler’s control.
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