DA: No criminal charges for use of K9 on jail inmate
No criminal charges will be filed against the Columbia County Sheriff's Office in the wake of a review of whether Columbia County jail deputies were justified in using a canine as a use of force on a jail inmate.
Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier released a memo detailing his conclusion, along with a report of grand jury findings and recommendations.
Under review was an Aug. 1 incident in which a dog was sicced on a jail inmate, Christopher Bartlett, after Bartlett repeatedly refused to comply with requests from jail staff to place his hands through a port in his cell door so he could be handcuffed and moved to a different cell. Jail staff said Bartlett was unruly and disruptive, causing unrest among other inmates in the jail, so deputies opted to move him to a more secluded cell.
County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson asked for the incident to be reviewed by the DA's office.
The DA and grand jury's review found that at the time of the use of force, the Sheriff's Office had no written policy for canine use of force within the jail.
Despite the lack of policy, Auxier ruled the jail deputies should not face criminal charges.
In a memo outlining his decision to decline prosecution, Auxier cited a provision in state law which "provides that uses of physical force that would normally constitute criminal conduct are nevertheless justifiable in certain circumstances."
"If I were to pursue prosecution in this matter, I would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your deputies were not using reasonable force to maintain order and discipline in the jail," Auxier wrote in his memo.
Beyond Auxier's review and decision, a grand jury also made several observations and recommendations to the Sheriff's Office. Grand jurors consulted with state mental health officials, the patrol chair of the Oregon Police Canine Association, and Disability Rights Oregon, in addition to taking testimony from a jail captain and touring the jail.
The grand jury review panel concluded canines were a "useful tool" for corrections deputies to maintain order inside the jail, but also recommended a peer-reviewed policy for the use of canines as weapons of force, noting that policy should include a requirement that dogs "should never be deployed inside the jail without the approval of the sheriff, acting sheriff, jail captain, or acting captain, except in situations involving imminent risk of death, serious physical injury, or escape," and "should not be used for routine enforcement matters."
Jurors also suggested a mental health practitioner partner with the jail.
Dickerson said the lack of a specific policy was pointed out to the grand jury by the Sheriff's Office. Dickerson agreed with some of the findings, but said he interpreted the review as reinforcement that canines are one of the best tools for use of force within the jail.
"I see this as an exoneration," Dickerson said. "I think this was viewed as some kind of knee-jerk reaction, and that wasn't the case. ...There are things that happen where [inmates] become either dangerous to themselves or others ... We want tools, we want good tools, that the public's going to accept."