A judge has stayed two charges against an Edmonton man who stabbed a police dog, ruling that police breached his charter rights even though the Crown had proven in both his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Thursday, Court of Queen's Bench Judge Eric Macklin stayed charges of possession of a weapon and obstruction of justice against Kirk Steele and convicted him on a charge of being unlawfully at large.
Steele, 37, stabbed Wizzard, a police dog that was trying to stop him as he ran from police in July 2006.
In his ruling, Macklin wrote that police breached Steele's charter rights when Wizzard's handler, Const. Bruce Edwards, used excessive force when he shot him and when officers conducted the subsequent investigation of the shooting.
"Irreparable prejudice would be caused to the integrity of the judicial system by the court's seeming condonation of both the use of excessive force by the police and the unacceptably negligent investigation by the same police into the use of that force," Macklin wrote.
"No other remedy other than a stay is reasonably capable of avoiding that result."
Police were carrying out an investigation at a house at 99th Street and 69th Avenue in the early hours of July 27, 2006, when Steele fled the residence through a bathroom window. Officers gave pursuit and Wizzard the police dog was sent to stop Steele.
After Steele stabbed Wizzard, Edwards discharged his gun seven times. Four of the bullets struck Steele, who subsequently spent several weeks on life-support in an Edmonton hospital.
Excessive use of force, judge rules
Macklin called the shooting an excessive use of force and "a clear example of cruel and unusual treatment imposed upon Mr. Steele."
"Firing a Glock pistol without warning seven times at a man armed with no more than a steak knife from distances of 20 feet or less is an unconscionable use of excessive and aggressive force in the circumstances," the judge wrote.
Edwards had testified that he believed Steele to be a danger to him and two other officers, but Macklin said he didn't believe that.
"In my view, he witnessed Mr. Steele stabbing his partner, his friend and his family's pet. So he shot him and he shot him in a potentially lethal manner. To borrow from an oft-quoted phrase, Mr. Steele brought a knife to a gunfight."
Macklin also found the subsequent investigation of the incident to be "sloppy and negligent" which included poor note-taking by an investigator.
Steele's lawyer, Tom Engel, said the ruling sends a message to police.
"The message is this kind of misconduct by the police will not be tolerated," Engel said. "Even if somebody's committed serious criminal offences, it won't be tolerated by the courts and the courts are going to make a very clear message to all police officers and everyone in the public that charter rights are the primary rights in our society and so the courts are going to protect them."
Bullet fragments remain
Steele's left kidney, left adrenal gland and a portion of his large intestine were removed due to the wounds. Bullet fragments remain in his lower spine, left arm and left buttock and he still suffers from severe pain.
"The judge could see for himself that me taking as much punishment as I did, I don't think nobody else should go through the same thing," Steele told reporters. "I got to live with this still. I may look good and healthy and what not but, you know, it hurts."
At the time of the incident, Steele was in breach of his statutory release conditions after serving a seven-year prison term. A date for sentencing on the conviction of being unlawfully at large will be set on Friday.
Edwards, who has been promoted to the rank of sergeant, was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2007 by a police investigation that was reviewed by the RCMP and Calgary Crown prosecutor's office. His dog underwent surgery and was back on the job within a month and half of the stabbing.