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K9 bites leave man needing 29 stitches to the head, no charges: SIU

Ontario’s police watchdog concluded there are no grounds to charge an officer after a 55-year-old man required 29 stitches to the head and suffered cartilage damage to his right ear due to bites from a police service dog.

The Special Investigations Unit said it was contacted Nov. 18, 2023 at 11:38 a.m. by the London Police Service, reporting that the night before, a police service dog had injured a break-and-enter suspect.

Police in London, Ont., were contacted by security at Hydro One at Power Street and Highbury Avenue the night before about an ongoing break and enter and two suspects being monitored through security cameras, the SIU said. Police dispatched a canine officer and he began tracking the suspects with his police service dog just before 2 a.m. Nov. 18.

About 25 minutes later, the service dog found one of the suspects.

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The SIU said the police service dog had “latched onto” the suspect’s head. The dog’s police handler arrived and told the suspect to stop punching the dog, the SIU said, before the officer kicked the suspect. Another officer arrived seconds later and took the suspect’s right hand and the canine officer then released the dog’s bite. The dog then bit the suspect’s left hand but let go once the second officer grabbed the hand. The suspect was then handcuffed and taken to a police cruiser, the SIU reported.

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“An ambulance attended and transported the Complainant to hospital where he was diagnosed with multiple puncture wounds of the left hand, and lacerations to the back and right sides of the head,” the report read.

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In his decision, SIU director Joseph Martino said Monday that the use of the police service dog was warranted because even though the suspects had already fled by the time police arrived, police had set up a perimeter and there was reason to believe the suspects were still in the area.

“It made sense to deploy a police dog to assist in the search, particularly as it was dark out and the search would involve areas of brush,” he concluded.

Martino also said police had found some discarded insulated rubber from copper wire, “suggesting the suspects had stolen copper wire and were equipped with a knife or sharp tool to strip the wire,” meaning that it was reasonable to believe a weapon could be involved. 

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While the police service dog was trained to bite at moving limbs and not the head, Martino explained that the issue of charges has to do with whether the officer had any reason to believe that the dog would act in such a way and whether the officer maintained reasonable control of the dog at the time.

Martino said that based on the dog’s training records, there was no reason to expect that it would bite someone’s head. As well, Martino said there was evidence to suggest the complainant “seems to have punched the dog even after being told to refrain by the (subject officer).”

“Though there is also some evidence the Complainant did not punch the dog, there is nothing to indicate this version of events is any more likely to be closer to the truth than that proffered by the (subject officer),” Martino writes.

As for whether the officer was in control of the dog, he said even though the officer didn’t stop the dog from biting the complainant’s left hand “at a time when there was no reason for the dog’s intervention,” there’s no reason to believe that was “anything more than a momentary lapse of attention.”

“In the circumstances, I am unable to reasonable conclude that the SO’s indiscretion, if it be such, amounted to a marked and substantial departure from a reasonable level of care. For the foregoing reasons, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges against the SO in this case. The file is closed,” he concluded.

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