RCMP dog handler used “unreasonable force” in arrest, complaints commission finds
March 18, 2022 By Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Mar. 17, 2022, Prince George, B.C. – A former Prince George RCMP officer currently on trial on another matter used “unreasonable force” when arresting a suspected thief, the RCMP Civilian Complaints Commission says in a final report.
The suspect, identified only as A.B., suffered skull fractures, a broken jaw, puncture wounds, and other injuries when apprehended by Cst. Joshua Grafton in September 2015, according to the report.
Grafton was among six Prince George RCMP officers deployed to arrest suspects occupying a stolen Ford F-250 pickup truck.
When the pickup was backed into a driveway, one of the officers, who was driving an unmarked vehicle, blocked the path back out and turned on his emergency lights.
The driver reversed the truck through a metal gate and onto a private property with a house. Grafton, in turn, rammed the pickup with his SUV to prevent it from crashing into the house.
The driver further reversed the pickup into a tree and the first officer rammed the pickup from the front. The impact was enough to knock the bandana off another of the three, identified as C.D. in the report and recognized by police as a person “known to possess handguns and to commit violent crimes.”
A.B. and C.D. then got out of the pickup and fled in different directions.
Grafton followed A.B. through the bush for about a kilometre, then deployed his police service dog as A.B. was crawling under a fence near a highway.
As to what happened next, the stories differ.
As A.B. continued to resist, Grafton said he initially used a “stun strike” to the side of A.B.’s head to stop him from resisting. When that didn’t work, Grafton said he applied two elbow strikes and at that point A.B. surrendered. Grafton instructed the dog to release its grip, “which it did immediately.”
A.B., in turn, maintained Grafton kicked him in the face at least four to six times after he relented, although he did not recall seeing the boot coming towards him and had trouble remembering the events that followed.
“A.B. could not recall whether he was arrested, whether he was handcuffed, or how he walked to the police car. A.B. believed that he lost consciousness when Constable Grafton kicked him in the face,” according to the report.
Doctors were unable to determine whether the injuries were caused by boots, fists or elbows, “because the nature of the injuries did not reveal the shape of the object that made the impact.”
The complaints commission concluded that on a balance of probabilities that Grafton did not kick A.B., but did punch A.B. with his fist and subsequently delivered two strikes with his elbow.
Grafton told investigators that A.B.’s level of resistance left him “shocked” and concerned he was “high on drugs,” but the commision concluded A.B.’s behaviour was “not surprising, as he was being bitten by a large police canine.”
As for the elbow strikes, Grafton said he used them because he was concerned about injuring his dominant hand which had recently undergone surgery. In response, the commission said it was “not a reasonable justification for using excessive force,” and that if he was not physically fit to work within the RCMP’s use-of-force framework, “he should not have participated in A.B.’s pursuit and apprehension.”
The complaints commission initially made nine recommendations. Among them was that Grafton receive training focused on the use of additional force by the handler and that the RCMP make police service dog handlers understand that “it is reasonable for any person to struggle from pain or fear in response to the bite of a large canine.”
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed to all but one of the recommendations.
Grafton had been cited for failing to provide A.B. with medical assistance, but Lucki replied that the officer who transported A.B. to the detachment was to blame for a failure to take him straight to hospital when it should have been apparent to her that A.B. had suffered a head injury and was complaining of chest pain.
Lucki said she would direct the officer to receive training on the importance of providing transport to a medical professional.
Names of the suspects were not provided in the final report, dated Jan. 27, 2022, but the circumstances match those provided in a press release the Prince George RCMP issued the day after a Sept. 8, 2015 incident in which police said two men tried to flee after they were tracked to Red Rock Road West off Highway 97 South while a third stayed in the pickup.
Gregory Scott Saugstad was subsequently sentenced to 18 months probation for possession of stolen property while charges of dangerous driving, flight from a peace officer, break and enter and commit indictable offence and mischief were stayed.
Jamie Hal Hammerstrom was sentenced to a further 42 days in jail for possession of stolen property and Devin Albert Olson, who appears to have been the one arrested by Grafton, was sentenced to 21 days in jail for breaching an undertaking or recognizance.
Rebeca Whalen, spokesperson for B.C.’s civilian-based police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office, confirmed Wednesday that it was alerted to the matter and, in March 2017, it forwarded its findings to the B.C. Prosecution Service for consideration of charges.
In May 2019, the BCPS said it would not be pursuing charges, saying in a clear statement that the “available evidence does not meet the charge assessment standard” and that it had problems with the credibility of the suspect.
Officers had regarded the apprehension as a “high risk takedown,” and in applying the “standard of reasonableness,” the BCPS said an arresting officer’s belief must be assessed on an objective standard but also one that “takes into account the particular circumstances and human frailties of the accused.”
“In applying the standard of reasonableness, ‘a certain amount of latitude is permitted to police officers who are under a duty to act and must often react in difficult and exigent circumstances.’”
Grafton is currently on trial for allegedly using excessive force and falsifying a report from a Feb. 18, 2016 apprehension in an alleyway off the 2200 block of Oak Street and caught on a nearby security camera.
– Prince George Citizen
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