The Independent Investigations Office has cleared a Saanich police officer of any criminal offence after he unleashed a canine unit on a man with Asperger’s Syndrome in a confrontation last year.
But even though he found no criminal offences in the case, IIO BC Chief Civilian Director Ronald J. MacDonald admonished what he called the officer’s escalation of force in the report released Thursday.
The report details the May 31, 2022 incident in which a man diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome accompanied his mother, a landlord, as she attempted to serve an eviction notice to an uncooperative tenant in their home.
Responding angrily, the son repeatedly struck the tenant’s front door with a hammer, the report says. Police were eventually called to the scene, resulting in a prolonged standoff as the man refused to leave the front steps of the house to be arrested.
When he finally relented and descended the steps, he defied officers’ commands to lie down. In response, one officer fired two plastic projectiles from an anti-riot weapon, while another released his police dog. The canine attack left the man with serious injuries to his arm.
MacDonald also found the officer’s use of force to be heavy-handed and only slightly in accordance with standard operating procedures.
Because the incident caused serious bodily harm to the man, an IIO investigation was triggered. One concern brought forward by police from that day was that the man may have been in possession of a hammer, or able to retrieve it from a nearby mailbox that residents of the building suspected he may have hidden it in. The IIO director diminished that claim in his report, calling the fear “fanciful.”
“Once he came down the steps he was no longer within reach of its suspected hiding place in the mailbox; and if the hammer were tucked down the back of his pants it would not have been easy for him to reach for it and wield it against officers, who might have simply stepped forward and taken him by the arms,” write MacDonald.
The report includes several other criticisms of the police response that border on scathing.
An officer’s response to a question from the police watchdog about the belief the man was armed was described as indirect, MacDonald said.
“Witness Officer 2 replied, rather obliquely, that ‘we still didn’t know where the hammer was at that point,'” he said.
He went on to describe another issue with a third witnesses officer’s description of the events from that day, disagreeing with the officer’s perception of “active resistance,” instead seeing it as a less severe “passive resistance” after officers at the time established a line that if crossed, would constitute an escalation of force, they claimed.
Both terms have defined definitions according to the National Use of Force Framework used in use of force training for police.
“Witness Officer 3 characterized that behaviour as ‘actively resistant.’ The type of resistance being offered by [the man] was better characterized as passive resistance, a lower level on the scale.”
Despite the issues raised by MacDonald, he cleared the officer of committing any offence meaning he won’t be charged.
“While I would not call that use of force commendable, neither can I call it criminal,” the report reads, concluding there are no reasonable grounds to forward the matter to Crown for consideration of charges.