Columbia County to pay $250K plus fees in federal lawsuit with St. Helens man who had canine sicced on him in the Columbia County Jail

A man who had a police dog sicced on him while in custody at Columbia County Jail is slated to receive $251,000 in a settlement agreement with the county. Bartlett

Christopher Bartlett, through his attorney, Jacob Johnstun, filed a tort claim notice against Columbia County earlier this year, and eventually filed suit in federal court in May, alleging civil rights violations while he was an inmate at the jail.

JohnstunBartlett's attorney alleged the jail was negligent, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit also asserted the dog attack was an intentional and reckless infliction of severe emotional distress, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.

The legal complaint stemmed from an event on Aug. 1, 2017, in which Sheriff's deputies commanded a trained canine to attack Bartlett while he was inside a jail cell. Deputies and jail officials alleged Bartlett was being uncooperative and disruptive inside his cell, and failed to comply with repeated requests to place his hands through a port in the cell door so he could be handcuffed and transported to a different pod within the jail. At the time, the jail had no policy addressing the use of canines as a tool of force within the jail.

Body camera footage of the incident was requested by the Spotlight and eventually released to the public, sparking heavy reaction from the public. The Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail, placed a temporary moratorium on the use of canines within the jail and requested a review of the incident by the Columbia County District Attorney's Office. '

District Attorney Jeff Auxier declined to press charges against any of the deputies involved, saying his office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they used unreasonable force. Auxier also cited state statutes that stipulate "uses of physical force that would normally constitute criminal conduct are nevertheless justifiable in certain circumstances."

Additionally, the DA's Office commissioned a grand jury review of the jail and its policies, yielding a recommendation to develop policy around the use of canines within the jail and limit the use of dogs as a weapon on people already in custody to extreme circumstances.

Bartlett's mental health came into question shortly after video footage of the attack was released. Sheriff's officials denied having any knowledge of Bartlett having mental health issues, but noted patterns of behavioral health issues and said Bartlett was frequently combative with law enforcement officers on previous occasions.

Johnstun, Bartlett's attorney, later revealed that Bartlett was evaluated by a mental health provider the day after the dog attack, and was observed as having symptoms of a mood disorder and delusional thinking.

The Sheriff's Office issued a news release about the settlement agreement Tuesday, saying it was a "business decision" by the county's insurance provider to settle the case with Bartlett and not an admission of liability.

"Columbia County Sheriff's Office uses all appropriate tools to maintain the safety and security of inmates as well as our staff and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of all inmates, including those with mental health issues," the release states.

VIDEO FOOTAGE: COLUMBIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Body camera footage shows a police dog grip the arm of Christopher Bartlett in 2017 while he was in custody at the Columbia County Jail. Bartlett eventually filed a lawsuit against Columbia County and received settlement money.Johnstun said the case sets precedent in Oregon, being the first of its kind to specifically address the issue of using trained police dogs as non-lethal weapons on people in custody.

"Now it will be a matter of precedent," Johnstun said. "It's going to be in the court record, the summary of the facts of this case and the result. We're of course very, very pleased with that."{img:220324}

The St. Helens-based attorney said he hopes his client's case informs future policing policies.

"Hopefully this kind of thing doesn't happen in the future," Johnstun added. "That's what we were always most concerned about."

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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