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SIU finds no wrongdoing after suspect sustains dog bites in Odessa arrest

Kingstonist file photo.

Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Joseph Martino, has determined an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) dog handler did not commit a criminal offence after a suspect sustained injuries during his arrest in the summer of 2020.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, the SIU released their findings in the case regarding the incident and whether or not the officer in question was guilty of any wrongdoing. The incident occurred on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020.

On that date, at approximately 8:30 p.m., OPP officers responded to a 911 call on County Road 4 in Loyalist Township. The caller reported that the male suspect, the complainant in the SIU case, had just run over a woman with his vehicle. Police subsequently learned that the suspect had abandoned the vehicle on the property and fled into the surrounding woods. OPP officers, including the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and a dog handler, were dispatched to the scene. The dog handler was the subject officer in the SIU case, the central officer being investigated.

The dog handler and ERT officers arrived on the scene at about 9:30 p.m., the SIU found after an extensive investigation involving four SIU investigators and four witness officers. After police established a perimeter around the area, all of the officers began to search for the suspect. Led by the Police Service Dog, the officers travelled east into a wooded area, then followed the dog’s track southwest through the forest before then making their way in a northwest direction, the SIU said in their report.

According to the SIU and documentation from the officers involved, the Police Service Dog located the suspect at about 11 p.m. and bit into his left calf. The suspect then wedged himself into an opening between two rocks. The report notes that the suspect then cried out in pain and attempted to push the dog away, something Martino noted in his decision likely caused the dog to bite the suspect more, having lost its grip on him. According to the report, the dog appears to have latched onto the suspect’s leg at least twice before the subject officer, the dog’s handler, arrived and removed the dog from the suspect. ERT Officers handcuffed the suspect and escorted him to a police cruiser, which transported him to an ambulance staged in the area. The suspect was then taken from the scene to the hospital where he was treated for serious injuries, including multiple puncture wounds and cuts to the lower left leg.

Final decision

“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO (Subject Officer – the dog handler) committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s arrest and injuries,” Martino wrote in his findings.

“Pursuant to section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police officers are immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were required or authorized to do by law,” the decision continues.

“Based on the information at their disposal, I am satisfied that the officers had a lawful basis to effect the Complainant’s arrest for the assault reportedly committed against a woman.”

Martino goes on to say he is satisfied the officer in question had reasonable grounds to deploy the police dog, and that the bite injuries “fell within the limits of legal justification.”

“There is no doubt the use of the dog amounted to a serious use of force which was responsible for significant injuries to the Complainant’s left leg. That said, the circumstances were such that the officers had cause to be concerned for their personal safety and want to engage the Complainant at a distance,” Martino said, noting that the officers were acting on the basis the Complainant (suspect) had just committed a serious crime by hitting a woman with his vehicle.

Martino noted that the officers were also aware the suspect was on a judicial release at the time in relation to a previous assault charge a week prior. Additionally, all of the officers involved were working in the dark, through unknown and rugged terrain.

“By his own admission, the SO (dog handler) took some time before he released the dog as he was initially alone with the Complainant (suspect). He had also observed an object underneath the Complainant’s body and was concerned about a potential weapon in his possession,” Martino said in the decision.

“While the delay likely resulted in further injury to the Complainant, I am satisfied the officer’s fears and decision-making were reasonable in the circumstances.”

The report notes that the object underneath the suspect was, in fact, a flashlight.

“In the result, as there is insufficient evidence in my view to reasonably conclude that the SO conducted himself other than lawfully throughout his interaction with the Complainant, there is no basis for criminal charges against the officer. The file is closed,” Martino concluded.

The SIU is a civilian law enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault. For the full SIU report, click here.

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