SIU Concludes Burlington Dog Bite Investigation
Case Number: 14-OOI-123
The Acting Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Joseph Martino, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge a Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) officer with any criminal offence in relation to the injuries suffered by an 8-year-old girl in April this year.
The SIU assigned four investigators to probe the circumstances of this incident. As part of the investigation, five witness officers and one subject officer were designated. The subject officer did not interview with the SIU or provide a copy of his notes, as is his legal right. The SIU also reviewed statements provided by five civilian witnesses, including the 8-year-old complainant.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on April 19, 2014:
- That afternoon the complainant was at her friend’s home in Burlington, which is the subject officer’s residence.
- The two girls were roller skating in the garage. Also in the garage at the time was a German Shepherd police service dog assigned to the subject officer.
- The complainant’s friend left the garage momentarily. In that moment, the dog attacked the complainant as she was tying the laces of her roller skates.
- The dog bit the complainant’s head and face, inflicting several lacerations to her scalp and face, and a puncture wound under her left eye. She screamed for help and her friend immediately responded.
- The complainant’s friend saw the dog biting the girl and ordered him to stop.
- The dog complied and let go of the complainant.
Acting Director Martino said, “The offence that arises for consideration is criminal negligence causing bodily harm, as prescribed under section 221 of the Criminal Code of Canada. While the officer must assume his share of the blame for the dog’s attack on the complainant, I am satisfied that his conduct did not amount to the type of wanton and reckless behaviour contemplated by the offence.”
Acting Director Martino explained, “The subject officer was the dog’s handler. As such, there is no doubt that the officer was ultimately and primarily responsible for the dog’s care and control. No matter how well-trained and behaved a dog has been, there is always an element of the unpredictable. It is the handler’s duty to mitigate that risk in the interests of public safety. It appears that the subject officer erred on this occasion by failing to ensure that Tracker was not left unattended and unrestrained in the garage in the presence of children.
“On the other hand, the dog and the subject officer had a long history. The subject officer had been the dog’s handler for five years by the time of this incident. As is customary, the dog lived with the handler. In all that time, save for a couple of documented instances in which the dog had bitten police trainers during training sessions, the available evidence indicates the dog had given no indication that he was being erratic or a menace to the public. He appears to have performed well on the job and been well-behaved while off duty at the subject officer’s residence. The evidence further indicates that the subject officer was typically very diligent in taking the necessary precautions with the dog. He was kept in an outdoor fenced kennel at the subject officer’s home and, at nights, in the garage. Neither the complainant, who had spent time with the dog in the past, nor the subject officer’s wife and children, had had any problems with the dog before. According to the complainant’s mother, the subject officer had always been very strict with the handling of the dog and she was very surprised that her daughter and the dog had been left alone because of the officer’s usual diligence. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the subject officer’s want of care amounted to an isolated lapse of judgment, and is far from a marked departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised - the key to establishing criminal liability in these cases. Therefore, there are no grounds to proceed with charges in this case.”
Acting Director Martino added, “I would be remiss in not acknowledging the outstanding conduct of the two young girls at the scene. As the dog attacked her, the complainant knew enough in that moment to do what was in her power to protect herself, covering her face, curling her body, rolling on the ground and calling for help. Her friend heard the cries for help and responded immediately. Without panic, she asserted her dominance over the dog and boldly issued the retreat commands, whereupon the dog disengaged. It goes without saying that the harm done by the dog could have been far more if not for the quick thinking and courage on display by the complainant and her friend.”
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
- report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.
Telephone/No de téléphone: 416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529 extension 2342