BC’s police watchdog has released an updated report outlining how an innocent bystander was mistakenly attacked in a Vancouver police takedown in New Westminster costing him “loss of most of his left ear” nearly three years ago — and why officers won’t be charged.
The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) released a version of the report last year, however, left details out it said were still part of the investigation and before the courts. Now that all proceedings have been completed, the full report is being shared with the public.
The innocent bystander, identified in media reports as Vick Supramaniam, was driving his blue Mazda 3 on September 19, 2016 in New Westminster eastbound on East 8th Avenue when he saw a white Acura being chased by police cruisers “skidding left and right” and heading towards him.
He pulled over to avoid a crash but the Acura collided into his driver’s side, the police car crashing into the back, according to the report.
Vancouver police were chasing suspects they believed were connected to a double homicide and kidnapping that happened just two days earlier: Emergency responders found two people dead after they entered a 911 call at a Vancouver residence. Police found evidence that led them to believe at least one hostage was taken by multiple suspects — a ransom and death threats were made against the hostage, causing police to view suspects as “armed and dangerous.”
The day of the police takedown in New West, surveillance located three suspects and a man believed to be the hostage driving from Surrey to New Westminster in a white Acura with another suspect vehicle, a Nissan Pathfinder — police told the IIO it was “vital to recover the hostage at the earliest opportunity because of imminent danger to his life.”
Witness officers said they attended briefings before the incident and were shown photographs of several suspects of mixed ethnicities — and there was belief there were other individuals involved who police haven’t identified at that point.
After one failed attempt to “pin” the white Acura, several police cruisers, including dog handlers, continued to chase the Acura — later then crashing into Supramaniam’s Mazda.
Supramaniam told the IIO that after the vehicle was hit, he saw smoke coming out of his Mazda, he climbed out through the passenger door, and once he made it outside, heard “bangs or shots,” so “went all the way flat on the floor,” crawled behind a bus bench and “took cover” a few feet from his car.
The IIO said that witnesses and police reported that officers shouted “runner” and “police, get down on the ground” but the man kept running.
Supramaniam said he then saw police lining up to approach the Acura, then one officer threw a flash bang towards him, adding his instinct was to go to the floor and get cover: “I straightaway ducked my face towards the ground.”
The report said, “‘The next minute I knew after that,’ he continued, ‘was the dog was attacking me, on my body and everything.'”
Other officers came, he said, telling him to stay down and “beating me up.” He was telling them repeatedly that he was innocent, that he was from the blue Mazda and was “not one of the guys you’re looking for.” The dog was gripping his leg and kept dragging him “down further.”
The IIO said by this time several officers already surrounded the Acura, arresting three suspects and saving the hostage — it was clearly a “high-risk takedown” with danger to the officers and hostage, “a handgun was subsequently discovered in the car.”
He said after he was handcuffed, the dog removed, shared his plate information, and he could tell police were realizing he was not one of the suspects police were looking for — then was taken to hospital.
Supramaniam suffered injuries from multiple dog bites, including lacerations to his shoulder and thighs — the most serious injury being the loss of most of his left ear. He was reported to follow up with a plastic surgeon and possible prosthesis.
In the report it states that a police officer “who is acting as required or authorized by law is justified in using as much force as reasonably necessary for the purpose. Criminal responsibility only attaches to any force used in excess of what is reasonably necessary.”
In this case, two incidents of force by officers are being analyzed: use of police vehicles against the fleeing suspect vehicle which caused a series of accidents, damage and injuries to civilians, and use of the police dog to apprehend Supramaniam — ultimately injuring and disfiguring him.
The report found all police policies were followed in use of the cruisers, so there were no grounds for charges against any officers.
In the IIO investigation, a subject officer declined to give a statement about the case — which police are not required to do, “pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding between the IIO and police services, and consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The report stated the VPD’s police dog handlers “are responsible and accountable for deploying police service dogs in a manner which facilitates the effective execution of police duties while reasonably safeguarding the public and police members. The use of a police service dog must be proportional to the level of risk posed to the officer, the suspect, and the public.”
BC Policing standards states that police dog bites must be minimized as much as reasonably possible.
Supramaniam’s side of the story is that he was lying on the ground when the police dog attacked and repeatedly bit him when he was taking cover under the bus bench — but it doesn’t line up with eyewitnesses and evidence stating that he was running from the scene when he was taken down in some form of action by police officers and police dog.
The report states that given those circumstances and the proximity of the Acura and Mazda, in the circumstances of stress, smoke and confusion, that officers would think Supramaniam was a suspect running from the scene — and it was reasonable to believe that he could be armed and a threat to police.
The IIO’s evidence on Supramaniam’s attack by the police dog states that the animal was biting his leg, those injuries minor, and there is no explanation for the harm caused to his ear — that it wouldn’t be normal for a police dog to bite a suspect’s face or head first — and without evidence from the suspect officer, it’s not possible to determine why the dog bit his ear.
The report states that given the circumstances police were handed that day, their actions in chasing, apprehending and restraining Supramaniam were considered reasonable — therefore evidence doesn’t provide grounds for charges against any officer.