Sheriff places moratorium on using K9s on jail inmates
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office says it is placing a moratorium on the use of canines to attack jail inmates, pending an investigation from the District Attorney's Office of an incident earlier this year.
Following the release of body camera footage showing Columbia County Jail deputies using a trained K9 in August to attack Christopher Bartlett, a non-compliant jail inmate, Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said he approached the DA's Office and requested the incident be independently reviewed.
The video footage was first published by the Spotlight earlier this month after a public records request. Since then, other media outlets throughout the Portland metro area have requested the same footage, causing heavy input from the public about the jail's policy for use of K9 force.
"I decided after some of the uproar that the graphic video engendered, that there was a disconnect between our understanding of the use of force and how it is applied and what some in the public view as the correct use of force," Dickerson stated.
He said he asked for the DA, who is familiar with reviewing use of force tactics by law enforcement, to review this particular use of force "to ensure that no laws were broken."
"In order for a use of force to be appropriate, it must be reasonable. If it is determined to be unreasonable, then our staff — like with anyone else — is potentially subject to criminal charges," Dickerson added.
Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier says he is reviewing body camera footage from the incident, as well as other factors.
"I am gathering information from several different sources in order to gain a thorough understanding of the incident and its surrounding circumstances," Auxier stated. "I believe this is necessary to be fair to all of the parties involved."
Auxier said there is no deadline for the investigation, but added he will "balance the need for a thorough examination with the need for a prompt resolution."
The inmate shown in the Aug. 1 incident had a history of fighting with law enforcement and was being disruptive in the jail, the sheriff said, refusing to comply with orders to place his hands through a slot in the cell door so he could be handcuffed and moved to a different pod.
That caused jail supervisors to call for a K9 who was sicced on the inmate after he was warned of getting bitten if he failed to follow orders. The inmate was attacked, fell to the ground, and received immediate medical treatment afterward for lacerations to his skin.
Dickerson confirmed earlier this month that the inmate had previously been transferred to a mental health facility. Others in the public who know the man also say he suffers from some degree of mental health issues.
The sheriff said the K9 has been used in the jail roughly half a dozen times as a show of force, and an in-house review of the August incident was deemed justified and compliant with the jail's policies. He did note, however, that only one incident report was filed after the attack on Bartlett. Following a records request, Dickerson said, he prompted other deputies involved to file their own reports months later.
In addition to the moratorium on canine force in the jail, Dickerson said he will also continue to engage the public on the issue of using force on inmates, particularly those with behavioral health challenges, while reaching out to other sheriff's offices for input and working closely with an attorney to develop best practices for the use of force within the jail.