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Assault trial begins for Abbotsford K9 officer in West Van dog bite takedown

At issue for the judge will be whether the dog bites are considered 'reasonable force'
First responders load a suspect into an ambulance following a police takedown on the Capilano River Bridge, Feb. 26, 2020. | Catherine Urquhart, Global BC

A trial has begun for an Abbotsford Police Department member charged with assault after his police dog bit a suspect in a high-profile takedown in West Vancouver.

The incident happened in February 2020, when a routine traffic stop in Abbotsford escalated to an assault on a Fraser Valley Highway Patrol constable. Police from numerous agencies followed suspect Dustin Mills to the Capilano River Bridge on the Upper Levels Highway, where they boxed him in. During the course of the arrest, Sgt. Shaun Nagel’s police dog bit Mills.

The province’s Independent Investigations Office, which is automatically tasked when a suspect faces serious harm or death in an interaction with police, opened its own probe and later concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence.

The B.C. Prosecution Service announced in July 2022 that it had sworn charges of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm against Nagel.

The trial got underway in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Friday morning.

Crown prosecutor Joseph Saulnier told the court he expects to call six officers who were involved in the day’s events to testify, as well as one officer who is an expert in the training of police dogs.

Saulnier said he expects, in broad strokes, the officers to testify that once they boxed Mills in and told him to get out of the car, he refused. When he eventually did get out, he ignored directions to get down on the ground. Officers were able to grab Mills, lift him over the median and get him face down on the ground. Cuffing him was difficult, however, as Mills kept one of his hands underneath his stomach, Saulnier said.

“I expect some of the witnesses will also testify that once Mr. Mills was on the other side of the median on his stomach being held by several officers, but still with his hand under him before he had been handcuffed, that Sgt. Nagel’s police dog bit Mr. Mills, likely on the shoulder, quickly, and then the head,” he said. “Mr. Mills was injured from that dog bite, and once he was handcuffed and sat up, blood was streaming down on him from an injury on the back of his head or near his ear.”

The judge in the case will have to determine whether that amounted to a criminal assault, or whether it was protected by section 25 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which permits law enforcement members to use force in the course of their duties.

“The Crown doesn’t take issue with the fact that Sgt. Nagel was in the execution of his duties, part of a group of officers affecting an arrest of Mr. Mills,” Saulnier said. “The question is whether the use of force in having Sgt. Nagel’s police dog bite Mr. Mills was a reasonable use of force.”

The first witness to testify was Const. Blaine Fuller, a Fraser Valley Highway Patrol member who told the court he pulled Mills over for having expired Ontario plates. When he ran a check through the police data system, he learned Mills was wanted on outstanding warrants in Ontario for assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and flight from police.

Fuller described Mills’ demeanor before the suspect punched him in the face.

“He was mad. He was clenching his fists. He was looking at my sidearm. He was looking at my tool belt. He was looking right through me,” he said.

Fuller pepper sprayed Mills, but the man was able to get back into his car and drive off, west on Highway 1.

Nagel was the first officer to arrive at the scene and offer assistance, Fuller said, before he got back on the highway in search of the suspect vehicle.

In February of 2021, Mills was found guilty of assaulting a police officer, escaping from custody and assault with intent to resist arrest. He was sentenced to time served, court records show.

The trial is expected to last until Wednesday, with further court days yet to be scheduled.

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