Woman sues Saskatoon police over dog attack, arrest
by Hannah Spray, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Feb 25, 2016
Sheila Tataquason was sitting in her backyard, visiting with a friend, when a dog came out of the darkness and attacked her, sinking its teeth into her hip.
Her friend, Joshua Desnomie, tried to get the dog off her. When the dog’s handler, a Saskatoon police canine officer, came into the yard, he saw two people he believed matched the description of the people he was looking for — a man had reported being robbed by a man and woman only minutes earlier at the nearby Fas Gas at 20th Street and Avenue H.
Tataquason and Desnomie were placed under arrest and Tataquason was taken to hospital to be treated for the dog bite. They were never charged, however. The police dog apparently had picked up Tataquason’s scent because she lived in the area, not because she’d been involved in the alleged robbery.
Tataquason sued the police in small claims court, claiming $20,000 for the damages she’s suffered since the attack and arrest on Aug. 16, 2013 — not only the physical trauma from the bite, but also the emotional trauma.
“I’ve had to deal with lots of emotions, of unfair justice from Saskatoon city police,” she said outside Saskatoon provincial court on Thursday. “My emotions are very high right now, emotions of fear, frustration, anger.”
She was supported by members of the Saskatoon coordinating committee against police violence, who held a rally outside court.
“We believe her experience is part of the history of violence committed against indigenous people by the Saskatoon Police Service,” committee member Kota Kimura said. “We’re really encouraged by Sheila’s courage and bravery and we want the people to know her story and stand with her as well.”
Tataquason’s claim went to trial earlier this month. On Thursday, Judge Vanessa Monar Enweani heard closing arguments. Heath Smith, a law student working with Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc. (CLASSIC), argued on Tataquason’s behalf that the actions of the canine handler, Const. Joel Lalonde, crossed the line beyond what’s reasonable.
Because the dog was trained to “bite and hold,” sending him off into the darkness at the end of a long leash was “destined” to end in an injury to someone, so especially in a residential area, in the dark of night, the standard of care should be extremely high, Smith said.
“The search that led to Ms. Tataquason’s injuries was akin to discharging a gun into a crowd where a suspect may or may not have run, and it crosses the threshold between good faith and negligence,” he said.
Anna Singer, who represented the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners and the three officers named in the lawsuit, acknowledged that what happened to Tataquason was “terrifying,” but argued the actions of the officers were reasonable, given what they knew at the time. The other two officers named in the suit, Const. Jeffrey Broadbent and Const. Sean Bonynge, arrived at the scene after the dog attack and assisted in the investigation.
Under the Police Act, if officers are acting in “good faith” while carrying out their duties, they are immune to civil liability, Singer noted.
“The reason for this protection is clear. The police cannot do their job if they have to constantly reflect on whether or not they’re opening themselves up to a lawsuit,” she said. “They have to be able to do their job and make quick decisions, without fear of reprisal, so long as they’re not acting with malice or in a way that’s clearly reckless or unlawful.”
Judge Enweani reserved her decision to a future date.