Use of canine force leads to lawsuit, settlement, advocacy
YEAR IN REVIEW — It started with a bite.
A dog attack on an inmate at the Columbia County Jail in mid 2017 was the first report of sheriff's deputies using dogs as a weapon of force on someone already in custody. Reports of the incident were first published in December 2017. Later that month, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office commissioned the district attorney's review of the use of force and announced a moratorium on using police dogs until further review. The dog bite also led to a grand jury review of the jail's policies around using dogs, albeit not a specific review of the dog bite incident.
While the Columbia County DA deemed the deputies who commissioned the use of force should not face charges, a lawsuit against the county was filed in May 2018, roughly a month after reports surfaced that the inmate was likely experiencing mental health issues at the time of the attack. An attorney in the case also noted that written reports from deputies involved conflicted with body camera video footage of the incident.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by a St. Helens law firm, alleged the jail violated the inmate's civil rights, and violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit was settled out of court in October and a few weeks later, Disability Rights Oregon issued a report calling for an end to the use of canines to "intimidate, control, or punish jail inmates."
In December, less than two months after the above-mentioned settlement, the county was named in a separate civil rights lawsuit alleging inhumane and negligent treatment of mentally ill jail inmates. That case is still pending in federal court.