No charges for police officer whose service dog bit suspect in St. Catharines chase: SIU

The province’s police oversight agency says a Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) officer from the K9 unit and his service dog used “no more force than was reasonably necessary” after a suspect was bitten in the face after an altercation in 2018.

SIU interim director Joseph Martino in his decision to clear the subject officer said despite the force used being at the “upper end of what was permissible,” he believed it was “justifiable force.”

“The police service dog had been trained to only bite a target’s arms and legs, not their face and neck,” Martino said in his report. “Was the officer’s deployment of the dog criminal pursuant to section 221 of the Criminal Code, which sets out the offence of criminal negligence causing bodily harm? In my view, there are no reasonable grounds to believe so.”

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The narrative from Martino’s report, based on evidence as well as SIU interviews with police and civilian witnesses, says the incident in question happened early on July 21, 2018. It began when Niagara police responded to a 911 call around 4:30 a.m. to an apartment complex in St. Catharines.

The caller described a potential abduction in which a man (the complainant) allegedly wielding weapons tried to force a woman into a van.

Officers arriving on scene encountered the woman who claimed she was assaulted by the complainant, who then fled the area.

The subject officer in the report and his service dog arrived to track the complainant while other officers established a perimeter around the search area.

The police service dog, on a leash, caught the scent of the complainant in a parking lot behind the apartment complex and the pair eventually tracked the complainant to a lot, where he ignored the officers’ direction that he stop.

The complainant was again tracked to a fence with barbed wire behind a Sobey’s store, where he was seen by the officer to trying to scale the fence.

The subject officer then grabbed and pulled the complainant down and ordered the service dog to remain still while he attempted to arrest the suspect.

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The two “grappled for a period,” according to Martino, before falling to the ground, with the officer giving the dog the order to physically engage the complainant.

The dog then bit the complainant in the neck and face before the subject officer handcuffed the suspect.

Paramedics treated the complainant for multiple lacerations to the face and a couple of puncture wounds in his neck.

Martino revealed that the service dog in question had been deployed in incidents over 500 times, and that this was the first time the dog had bitten anyone.

The director’s report also suggested that, based on evidence obtained from the SIU investigation, some of the complainant’s injuries were a result of his face making contact with the barbed wire atop the fence he was trying to scale.

Martino ruled there was no excessive or criminally negligent force used and closed the file.

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