Governor signs bill prohibiting use of canines for jail cell extractions
Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation on Tuesday, June 11, banning the use of canines to extract inmates from cells in Oregon correctional facilities. The Oregon House and Senate approved the bill earlier this month.
The bill, SB 495, passed the House on June 3 with a 54-1 vote. The legislation was developed after the Spotlight reported in December 2017 that Columbia County Sheriff's Office deputies directed a dog to attack an uncooperative inmate in the Columbia County Jail.
After the Spotlight's reporting, the advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon issued a report condemning the incident. DRO called for a statewide ban on using canines to extract inmates from cells, which led to SB 495.
As approved by the House and Senate, the bill states that "an official of a correctional facility may not use a dog to extract an inmate from a cell."
"We are just thrilled that this bill passed," said DRO legal director Emily Cooper, who authored the group's report.
DRO staff were upset after initially learning about the incident, according to Cooper.
"It became that much more troubling when we confirmed that this was happening and we asked the sheriff to stop doing this and he said no."
The sheriff at the time, Jeff Dickerson, defended the use of force. The county had no documented policy regarding the use of canines to extract inmates from cells.
Christopher Bartlett, the inmate bitten by the dog, had a history of mental illness at the time of the attack. Months after the incident, a jail psychiatrist noted in an evaluation that Bartlett was diagnosed as "psychosis [not otherwise specified], consider schizophrenic," according to the DRO report.
Body cam footage from the incident showed Bartlett did not comply with deputies' demands that he put his hands through an opening in his cell door so that he could be handcuffed for transport to a different cell. He was alone in his cell.
Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier reviewed the incident but declined to file criminal charges.
Bartlett sued Columbia County for civil rights violations in federal court through his attorney in May 2018 for $500,000, and ultimately received a settlement of $251,000 from Columbia County last October.