VICTORIA – The province's police watchdog has cleared a Nanaimo RCMP officer of using excessive force following a dramatic police takedown in a remote Nanaimo cabin in February. 

On Feb. 16, Nanaimo RCMP were called to a rural cabin near Nanaimo for reports of an intruder trying to break into the property. Once RCMP officers arrived, they used a police service dog to track down the suspect who had fled up a mountain through the snowy back country. 

As police scoured the mountain, one officer eventually located the suspect and released their police dog, which bit the man in the back of his legs and buttocks. The officer was then concerned that the man was still trying to escape, as he was attacking the police dog, and struck the suspect twice in the face to subdue him.

The violent arrest prompted an investigation into the incident by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO), which heard conflicting stories of the takedown from the suspect, the officer, and civilian witnesses. 

According to the IIO, the arrested man told investigators that he and his girlfriend had been stranded in the woods outside of Nanaimo for two days without food. He claimed that after days of trying to dig out their vehicle, they found the cabin which they "had permission to be in." He then said that while standing outside of the cabin, a man approached him with a baseball bat and crowbar and accused him of "going through his stuff."

The man then told investigators that the crowbar-wielding man swung the crowbar at him, striking him in the side and in the knee. Fearing for his safety, the man said he found a can of bear spray on the property and picked it up. He claimed that he was then confronted by a total of four men, with three of them carrying weapons, who threatened to break his girlfriend's kneecaps. He said he then deployed the bear spray at one of the men, disorientating him while the other three men continued to threaten him and his girlfriend.

"Ten to 15 minutes later, they're still threatening my life, with death, with not calling the cops, taking care of it themselves," the man told investigators, according to the IIO. "We get to the gate, and one guy proceeds to slash my tires."

The man said that another vehicle then arrived and "nicked" his left side before stopping. He claimed that if he did not move, the vehicle would have run him over. Once the vehicle had come to a stop, the man said he continued to fear for his safety and deployed the bear spar on the driver of the vehicle.

The man then turned towards a nearby mountain range and ran from the scene, fearing for his life and hoping to draw attention away from his girlfriend, he told investigators.

During his run up the mountain, the man said that he stumbled upon a trail camera, which he took as he continued to flee.

Meanwhile, witnesses at the scene said that the bear-spray wielding man was the first one to become aggressive, and attacked the four men unprompted. One of the four men, a friend of the property owner, told the IIO that they arrived at the cabin to find a strange car parked in the driveway, windows smashed and possessions from the cabin strewn on the ground outside.

He said that one of the men, while walking around the side of the cabin, ran into the suspect and was immediately bear-sprayed by him. The witness said that the men then escorted the man and woman to the front gate of the cabin, where the man threatened to fight with the men, who refused.

The witness said that once another neighbouring cabin-owner arrived, the man immediately bear-sprayed the driver and ran away into the nearby woods. 

After the man had fled the property, police arrived and set off in pursuit of him. The IIO described conditions as nearing sunset with 45 centimetres of snow on the ground. 

Once police caught up with the man, the man said he was trying to surrender to the Mounties when an officer released their police dog. 

Following its investigation, the IIO determined that the arrested man's version of events was unlikely. While the man claimed to have been surrendering to police, the IIO said that the bite wounds, which were located on the buttocks and back of the leg, are more consistent with someone fleeing than surrendering. Moreover, the IIO reported that paramedics who responded to the scene did not find wounds consistent with being struck by a crowbar or vehicle.

The IIO added that it is odd that the man, while supposedly fleeing for his life, ran in "the exact opposite direction of the police or any other help" when he decided to run into the woods up a snow mountain. During his time on the mountain, investigators said that footage from the trail camera that he grabbed showed him deliberately taking the time to steal the device, even when he claimed he was fearing for his safety.

In the end, the IIO ruled that the while a significant amount of force was used in this arrest, the arresting officer's actions were justified given the extreme situation. 

"It is also true that the degree of force used was at the upper end of the justifiable range and, in different circumstances, might well be considered excessive," read the IIO report. "In these circumstances, however, it was not."