A York Regional Police officer will be able to keep his job and have no criminal record after pleading guilty to siccing his K9 unit dog on a robbery suspect who was lying face down on the ground awaiting arrest.
Const. Michael Partridge was given a conditional discharge in a Toronto court on Wednesday after pleading guilty to assault earlier this month.
"This was an error of judgement, but it wasn't a situation of bad faith. Just a police officer doing a difficult job," defence lawyer William Mackenzie said in an interview following the sentencing.
Partridge was originally charged with a more serious charge of assault with a weapon.
The weapon was Partridge's police dog, Lex. Partridge released the dog to attack and bite a robbery suspect in an alleyway near the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto on March 30, 2016, a use of force the prosecution called "completely unjustified and gratuitous."
It was admitted in court that the suspect — Median Jackson — had already been apprehended by another officer and was lying face down with his hands behind his back, waiting to be arrested, when Partridge and Lex encountered him.
Partridge has been suspended with pay since he was charged.
Camera captured incident
The incident was captured on a surveillance camera.
The footage shows Jackson running down a narrow alleyway before crawling under a fire escape staircase and lying down.
It appears in the video another officer finds Jackson and stands over him. The court heard that this officer did not handcuff Jackson because he had already used his handcuffs to apprehend another suspect.
GRAPHIC VIDEO WARNING
The footage then shows Partridge enter the alleyway and quickly release the dog. It bites Jackson in the arm, shaking its head side to side.
Partridge kicks and punches Jackson several times. These blows did not harm him. He received minor injuries from the dog bite and was given a tetanus shot.
Tracking robbery suspects
Partridge was in Toronto with a team of York Regional Police officers tracking Jackson and other men wanted for several break and enters in the GTA.
In arguments on Wednesday, defence lawyer Mackenzie told the court that Partridge had a "legitimate concern" that Jackson may have been armed.
Jackson's criminal record includes previous firearm charges, the court heard. A small bag of ammunition was also found during a search of one of the other suspects involved in the incident that day.
Mackenzie admitted that the video looks "disturbing" but said Partridge was in a "very dynamic situation" and released the dog within three seconds of seeing the suspect, before learning he was complying with the other officer.
The crown was asking for a conditional sentence of house arrest for three months. A conditional discharge is a finding of guilt, but means Partridge will have no criminal record and may keep his job as a police officer.
He has also been charged under the Police Services Act and will face a disciplinary hearing at a later date. His lawyer does not believe Partridge will lose his job.
Officer was 'too hasty'
In his decision, Justice Harvey Brownstone said that Partridge "allowed his anxieties in the heat of this adrenaline-charged moment to overtake his better judgement" and was "too hasty in siccing the dog on the suspect."
Brownstone noted that this was the first time Partridge had released his police dog in his nine months on the K9 unit.
"Clearly this incident indicates a need for more thorough and intensive training in the use of police dogs," Brownstone said.
Brownstone said a conditional discharge can only be granted if it is not contrary to public trust.
In granting one to Partridge, he cited the officer's "sincere remorse", "glowing" character references and "unblemished" 10-year police record.
"It is abundantly clear that this offence was an isolated incident which arose from an impulsive error in judgement and not from any premeditated act, loss of temper, or personality disorder," Brownstone said.
Brownstone ordered Partridge to complete 12 months probation and additional police training.
A previous version of this story reported that the crown requested a suspended sentence. In fact, the crown requested a conditional sentence.Sep 27, 2017 1:00 PM ET