Bill Evanow stands in the driveway of a building off 223rd Street in Maple Ridge where he was attacked by a police dog in March 2011. Evanow is suing the RCMP.

Bill Evanow stands in the driveway of a building off 223rd Street in Maple Ridge where he was attacked by a police dog in March 2011. Evanow is suing the RCMP.

Ridge RCMP sued for police dog bite

Maple Ridge resident Bill Evanow was bitten after he tried to chase a car thief who was fleeing police

  • Mar. 26, 2013 4:00 p.m.

When Bill Evanow flexes his thigh muscle, the flesh dimples, displaying a divot the size of his fist.

“You can see my thigh bone,” he says, slowly turning his leg to show where a police dog bit off a chunk of his hamstring two years ago.

On a rainy spring night in March 2011, Evanow was only trying to help RCMP catch a car thief, who had led police on a chase from Mission into downtown Maple Ridge.

Even with its tires deflated by a spike belt, the truck made its way from Wilson Road to downtown Maple Ridge.

Police finally boxed the truck in a few blocks away from Evanow’s house, but the man managed to slam his way out of the blockade, eventually ditching the truck in Evanow’s driveway.

As a police helicopter shone a light into his back yard, Evanow saw the thief running past his window.

He grabbed a snow shovel and decided to pursue the man.

“I thought the cops were right there.”

Evanow tripped the thief as he ran through his yard and chased him as he leaped over a wire fence towards a parking lot off 223rd Street.

As Evanow gained on the thief, he saw the man scale a second fence a fair distance away. When he turned around to head back home, he felt a sharp pain as a police dog latched on to his thigh.

“He just wouldn’t let go,” said Evanow, a caterer who is always on his feet for work.

“I was on the ground for more than a minute. It’s a miracle he missed my artery.”

Evanow spent eight days in hospital. It took six months for his wounds to heal.

He had no intentions of suing Canada’s national police force until he discovered that someone is bitten by a police dog, on average, once every two days in B.C.

Ridge Meadows RCMP have not yet filed a statement of defence. But a police report filed by the dog handler, Const. Bruce Ternan, claims the officer saw both Evanow and the car thief running and yelled at them to stop.

Evanow did, but the police dog “mistook him as the bad guy.”

The car thief fled and was never apprehended by police, although a helicopter and officers from both Maple Ridge and Mission pursued him.

RCMP offered Evanow a settlement of $20,000.

“After two years, you start to see things differently,” said Evanow.

“It’s not about the money. I want to see things change. This is happening all the time. You’ve got 400-plus cases in two years.”

His lawsuit, along with seven others involving police dog injuries, was launched by the Pivot Legal Society in an effort to push the province to regulate the use of B.C. police dogs.

“Bill’s story is really the perfect example of an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Evanow’s lawyer, Doug King, of the Pivot Legal Society.

“It really illustrates that it can happen to anybody, if they are deploying the dogs blindly and the dogs are trained to bite everybody.”

A review by Pivot and CTV News highlighted the statistic of a police dog biting a person once every two days in B.C., and that RCMP dogs bite five times more often, and Vancouver Police dogs bite 10 times more often than forces that train their dogs to be less aggressive.

That method – known as “bark and hold,” or minimum force handler control  – is practiced by police in Saanich, New Westminster, and Delta.

Dogs are currently classified as an intermediate weapon – the same as Tasers were before the Robert Dziekanski review.

King also learned that RCMP often don’t file police reports if a police dog bites a person “by accident.” In Evanow’s case, the police report was filed 11 months after the incident. He is hoping witnesses from Maple Ridge come forward to support Evanow’s suit.

“We hope in the long run we might start looking at these injuries as more serious harm,” said King.

“We want there to be a recognition that the consequences can be so high that dogs should not be used as a default weapon. They should really be a specialized tool.”

The lawsuits filed by Pivot are prompting change, with the province announcing Friday a working group was established in January with the goal of establishing provincial standards for police dogs.

King believes Evanow’s case was an impetus for pushing the province towards more regulation.

“If there was any debate, up to this point, whether the government should intervene, Bill’s case is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The province confirmed that the working group has already met once and consists of representatives of all police forces in B.C. and their canine units.

“I am confident that police know the importance of using dogs appropriately and take seriously any incident that results in a police dog bite,” said Justice Minister Shirley Bond in a statement.

“Police dogs provide a valuable service in keeping our communities safe and they are an important policing tool, as well as a useful less-lethal force option for police. However, a police dog bite can cause significant injury, and therefore we need to ensure that we have the best possible policy and practices in place regarding the use of police dogs in B.C.”

Witnesses

If you witnessed the police dog and its RCMP handler pursuing the car thief on 11 March 2011 to call Doug King at Pivot Legal Society 604-255-9700 ext. 112.