Columbia County, OR — If you are a mentally ill, unarmed, and distressed inmate, it is entirely acceptable for officers to force their K9 to shred you to pieces for standing peacefully against a wall—according to Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson.
“It starts with a bark,” Dickerson told the Columbia County Spotlight. “It’s similar to everything we do. There’s a whole range of force options out there that a deputy can use.”
The graphic video of Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies siccing their Belgian Malinois on mentally ill inmate Christopher Bartlett is now the center of a controversy as Dickerson claiming it shows cops acted appropriately.
“Incident reports indicate Christopher Bartlett, an inmate who had been combative with deputies and may have a history of mental illness, needed to be moved to a different pod in the jail,” the Columbia County Spotlight reported. “Dickerson says the August incident with Bartlett, who resisted and was documented to be combative, was reviewed and deemed a justifiable use of force. In fact, Dickerson says, it went exactly as it should have, with Lars seizing the inmate, and the inmate being removed ‘without serious injury.’”
However, that day, Bartlett was not combative when Deputy Ryan Dews sicced his K9 on the mentally ill inmate.
As the video shows, police were telling Bartlett to bring his hands to the cell door port so he could be placed in cuffs so they could move him to a new cell. However, likely due to his diminished mental state, instead of complying with the deputies’ orders, Bartlett remained with his back against the cell wall.
This apparently infuriated the deputies. “You’re gonna get bit!” a deputy warns Bartlett.
Seconds later, the cell door flies open as the K9 leaps in. Likely fearing the attack from the K9, Bartlett threw a plastic tub toward the door as the K9 latched on to his forearm and began tearing into him.
For over 20 seconds, Lars, the K9, tears into Bartlett’s skin. As is standard procedure when police force their dogs to tear into non-violent victims, a deputy screamed at Bartlett repeatedly to “Stop Resisting!” and “relax!” Bartlett—writhing in pain from the vicious attack—has a hard time laying completely still.
“Good boy! Good boy!” exclaims the deputy after his K9 just tore into a mentally ill man for no reason.
Naturally, the sheriff told reporters that Bartlett’s treatment and subsequent injuries were part of keeping his deputies safe.
“We bring the dog in and we give him a command to bark,” Dickerson explains. “We need people to realize there is a dog and the dog is ready to go at it if you continue to push the issue. The dog is trained so that the officer doesn’t have to get in there and get into a fistfight with somebody.”
Instead of applying a little bit of courage and walking into the cell with the two other officers to restrain a mentally ill man, the deputies sent in their dog to draw blood.
Predictably, the sheriff’s department investigated themselves and not only did they find they did nothing wrong, but, according to Dickerson, it went exactly as it should have.
“We do not relish having to resort to force,” Dickerson stated via email. “We do what we can to minimize the length and intensity of these confrontations to protect the staff AND the inmates from severe injury.”
The CCSO canine policy stipulates deputies may rely on a dog when a suspect poses “an imminent threat of violence or serious harm” which was not at all the case. However, in a ridiculous catch-all addition, the sheriff claims the authority to mutilate mentally ill inmates if they are “physically resisting” or even “threatening to resist arrest.”
Apparently, to the sheriff, standing against the wall was perceived as threatening to resist arrest and so a man was mauled by a dog.