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No charges after police dog bites innocent bystander, B.C. prosecutors say

A German shepherd is seen in an undated Shutterstock image. A German shepherd is seen in an undated Shutterstock image.
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Two police officers who mistook an innocent Surrey, B.C., resident for a suspect, knocked him to the ground and unleashed a police dog on him during a chase had a "reasonable basis" for doing so, and will not face charges, prosecutors have decided.

The B.C. Prosecution Service said the decision came down to whether the officers involved had reason to believe the bystander was their suspect, and whether the circumstances leading up to that point warranted their use of force.

Notably, officers had been told the suspect they were chasing might have been carrying a gun.

"Although the (victim) denied being involved and did not resist arrest, the police were still engaged in a dynamic arrest of an individual they reasonably believed had been purposely and aggressively avoiding apprehension," the BCPS wrote in a summary of the case provided last week.

"The available evidence is insufficient to prove that the officers used more force than was necessary in the circumstances."

That use of force resulted in the victim – who happened to be an off-duty police officer himself – being wounded so badly by the dog that he required 12 staples in his leg.

TENSE CHASE UNDERWAY

The incident unfolded in a residential neighbourhood on the night of May 29, 2021, while authorities were chasing two suspects who had crashed a stolen pickup truck and fled on foot.

Prior to the collision, the pickup driver had allegedly driven across multiple yards while trying to speed away from police.

The victim said he was on his driveway that night when he heard the crash. He then saw two people running down his neighbour's driveway to the backyard, and followed them partway there – until he saw a group of police officers with a dog running in his direction.

The off-duty officer said he then put his hands in the air and told police, "Hey guys, I'm not involved."

"He turned his head and was then tackled by one of the males and landed two metres from where he was standing, face down on the ground," reads the BCPS summary of his account. "The officer then called out to the dog, and he felt a pull on his leg."

The victim said police realized their mistake within a few seconds and took off to continue their pursuit.

B.C.'s police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office, was notified of the incident and investigated the circumstances before submitting a report to Crown counsel for the consideration of charges in July 2023. 

'REASONABLE' MISTAKE

Because it was getting dark out at the time – and because the victim was both close to the crash scene and wearing clothing similar to the suspect's – prosecutors found it was "reasonable" for the officers involved to believe they had caught up to one of their suspects.

The other key issue was whether their use of force could warrant assault charges.

Knocking the man to the ground with a shoulder-check would have denied him "the opportunity to access a potential firearm," and was therefore not excessive, the BCPS said.

"Given the possible presence of a firearm and the fact that the (believed) suspect had not been securely apprehended but simply knocked to the ground, the subsequent deployment of the police dog … was also reasonable," the BCPS wrote.

"Accordingly, there is no substantial likelihood of conviction and no charges have been approved." 

Both of the actual suspects were arrested in the area shortly after. The BCPS summary does not confirm whether a firearm was recovered from either of them. 

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