WARNING: This story contains images that may be disturbing.
The parents of a five-year-old boy who was so badly bitten by a Winnipeg police dog last week that he lost a tooth and required several stitches to his lip in hospital say they’re heartbroken to learn that Manitoba’s police watchdog has declined to investigate the matter — without ever talking to the family.
Femi and Omolara Aloba, the boy’s parents, say they feel what happened to their son has been downplayed in public and that neither the police, nor the body set up to investigate them, has treated the matter seriously.
“This saddens my heart right now and I feel that we are probably being treated in a certain way,” said Femi Aloba.
“You don’t just sweep things under the carpet. You don’t just downplay things. You’re talking about a five-year-old. A toddler. He was in a safe spot … in his school.”
The child was bitten by the police dog during a visit from the Winnipeg Police Service’s K-9 unit to Samuel Burland School in Winnipeg’s South St. Vital neighbourhood on Dec. 14.
Police referred the matter to the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which is mandated to investigate all serious incidents involving police in the province.
An investigator from the unit told CBC News on Wednesday that after reviewing the incident they determined it did not fall within the “serious injury classification” because the child was taken to hospital but not admitted.
The investigator further said the decision could change, and an independent investigation could be launched, if there is enough public interest in the incident.
The parents said they’ve never been contacted by anyone from the IIU and only learned about the unit’s decision to decline jurisdiction to investigate when they were contacted by the CBC.
A harrowing ordeal
The boy’s mother said when she got to the school after the attack, she was immediately struck by the sight of blood and her son crying and she started crying as well.
She said someone from the school and a paramedic each gave her versions of what happened.
She was told the students were to take photos with the police dog and the boy was walking and tripped. According to one account he fell on the dog, and the other says he fell in front the dog.
In both versions, the dog then bit the child.
In a statement issued on the day of the incident, the principal, Ross Cathers, said “the student was provided with the necessary medical care on-site” and transported to hospital as “an additional precaution.”
The boy’s parents, however, described injuries that required significant medical attention.
“Dangling,” is how they described a chunk of his lower lip that was torn by the bite.
They said they got to the hospital some time around noon and didn’t see a doctor until after 7 p.m.
“My son was so weak … because he couldn’t eat anything,” Omolara Aloba said.
Then the boy was forced to wait another hour. They say the doctor told them because of nature of the injuries a plastic surgeon would have to do the stitching.
Psychological effects on the child
Just over a week later, the parents say their son is now doing better, but they see scars that run deeper than those on his lips.
“My child is scared,” said the boy’s mom.
She says now every night when she takes him to bed he wants her to sleep in the bed with him.
“He has never said that before. He has been sleeping on his own since he was a year old. He says that to me every night since the incident happened,” she said.
She said he also asks her repeatedly, “Mommy, why did the dog bite me?”
The parents said they had a “scare” last Saturday as the family ate.
The boy held his mouth and his throat and appeared as if he was choking or trying to vomit.
They say they tried to get him to tell them what was wrong — because he was only having spaghetti and vegetables — but for about 30 minutes he continued that way.
Femi Aloba says they called in the paramedics. Although they were eventually able to calm him down, he says they couldn’t explain what was wrong, so he insisted they go to the hospital.
There too, there was no sign of a blockage of any kind. Yet the child held unto his throat until he went to bed that night.
“We were really terrified because that was not [my son],” said Femi Aloba.
“That has never happened before. We’ve never had to take him to the hospital in a rush. He doesn’t have any allergies and he didn’t eat anything different from what he’s used to eating.”
Not serious enough: IIU
What the Independent Investigation Unit considers a serious injury is specifically defined and doesn’t include every kind of injury.
While it does include “cuts or lacerations,” for example, it goes on to say “that require admission to a hospital on an in-patient basis.”
It also includes “the loss of any part of the body.”
The family said the boy’s tooth was loose from before the incident, but it was the force of the dog’s jaws that dislodged it.
“How serious can it get?” asked Omolara Aloba.
Femi Aloba said even if the injures don’t meet the standard, someone from the body should have contacted the family to say so.
“You don’t think that it’s important to reach out to the family? Do you know how difficult and how painful this has been for us? Each time I keep thinking about it, I am just happy and we are glad that it wasn’t worse,” he said.
The father also said “there should be a level of responsibility from from the organization itself,” which would prompt it to investigate the matter.
“If it were to be their own child, would they have said the same thing? Wouldn’t they have wanted to get an explanation of what happened, how it happened and what the organization would do to prevent it in the future?”
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