Man guilty of dangerous driving, not guilty of assaulting police officers with car in 2017 chase

Judge ruled police used excessive force, but excessive force not severe enough to result in stay of charges

(Herald file photo)

Police were found to have used “some measure” of excessive force in the arrest of a man who led officers on a lengthy chase south of Prince Albert in 2017.

The finding of excessive force, though, was not enough to result in a stay of charges, as Justice Scherman found the use of force didn’t impact the evidence against the accused, nor did it represent state misconduct.

The accused, Aaron Jack James Douglas, was found guilty of dangerous driving, failing to remain at the scene and operating a vehicle while being pursued and causing bodily harm to an officer.

He was found not guilty of assaulting three officers with a weapon — a 1997 Honda Civic, successfully arguing that he was not trying to threaten or assault them, and instead just flee arrest.

The case dates back to Oct. 28, 2017. According to the ruling, the chase started when Const. bear spotted a license place that was supposed to belong to a red car attached to the back of a black two-door Honda Civic.

He turned on his lights to stop the vehicle. It stopped briefly, before taking off at about 5:30 a.m.

Bear and other officers chased the vehicle through Prince Albert, where it struck a parked car and sped through stop signs. The fleeing vehicle, driven by Douglas, also drove in the oncoming lane of traffic, through back alleys, parks and a farmer’s field.

The chase hit speeds within the city of 100 km/h. Officers tried to use stop sticks to take out the vehicle’s tires. Douglas avoided them, striking officers’ vehicles with his own.

At one point, with Const. Bear trying to catch up to him, Douglas’ car veered left, striking Bear’s cruiser.

The cruiser spun out and Bear suffered injuries to his head and neck.

He took 13 days off work.

About five minutes after striking Bear’s cruiser, Douglas headed south, out of Prince Albert, on Highway 3. On the way, he went through several stop signs and red lights without stopping.

Douglas hit speeds of up to 140 km/h on the highway, driving on a flat tire, then a rim, and then, as the car wore down, his brake rotor assembly.

At about 6:10 a.m. he drove into the ditch on the oncoming side, between the Muskoday Bridge and Birch Hills.

Douglas and his passenger ran, with Douglas hiding in tall grass at a nearby farmer’s field.

The canine unit was called in.

Police say Douglas didn’t comply or present his hands to be cuffed.

 Police Service Dog Febee bit Douglas, grabbing hold of his arm with her jaw.

She maintained her grip for about five to eight seconds while another officer cuffed Douglas. Once he was cuffed, Febee was called off.

Douglas testified that next, he was slammed into the side of the police car and kicked and punched several times.

He said he received blows to the head and stomach and kicks to the back.

He argued that the police dog bite — which was treated in the hospital — and the kicks and punches amount to excessive use of force.

Police testified Douglas was pushed against the cruiser as he kept falling to the ground and turning away from officers when they asked his name.

They said they were also trying to gain control of him to conduct a proper search.

Audio from a rear-facing camera in the police cruiser captured about 40 seconds of audio Judge Scherman found was consistent with Douglas being slammed into the side of the car.

Scherman found that the use of PSD Febee and the bite to Douglas’ arm was not a use of excessive force.

“He could have avoided what happened by sanding up and communicating his intention to submit peacefully,” Sherman wrote.

“The dog did what it was trained to do.”

The actions, of the officers, however, consisted of “some excessive use of force.

“The officers testified that this had been a stressful situation and they were subject to the effects of adrenaline,” Sherman continued.

“They were no doubt in a state of heightened stress and vulnerable to the responses that stressful situations can trigger. Contrary to their duty a degree of excessive force was used.”

Scherman, though, found the injury was “superficial” and that the fairness of the trial was not compromised by the officers’ actions.

“The excessive force they used is, in my assessment, more appropriately categorized as being matters of personal responsibility than state misconduct. In any event, even if characterized as state misconduct, it is not state misconduct that is likely to continue or be repeated in the future nor will carrying forward the prosecution offend society’s sense of justice,” he wrote.

“While their use of excessive force was not justified, it occurred following a very stressful situation where their self‑monitoring mechanisms were compromised, and the excessive use of force was at the lower end of the scale. Such misconduct occurring again in the future is unlikely. The past conduct is not so egregious that the fact of this matter going forward for a decision on the merits would be offensive to our society’s sense of justice and fair play.”

He dismissed Douglas’ call for the charges to be stayed.

The next issue was the charges against Douglas — he originally faced six charges, including three counts of assaulting officers with a weapon — a 1997 Honda Civic.

The defence argued that Douglas did not use or threaten to use his car as a weapon. Rather, an argument was made that his actions “were simply attempts to evade or get away from pursuing police.”

On cross-examination, the police officers couldn’t say whether Douglas intended to hit them.

Scherman found Douglas not guilty of those charges.

Douglas admitted to driving dangerously. Scherman also found that Bear’s injuries were caused by the collision his cruiser had with Douglas during the chase and found him guilty on that count.

Causing bodily harm while fleeing police carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Dangerous driving and failing to remain at the scene of a collision both carry maximum sentences of five years in jail.