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Two members of police canine unit charged with aggravated assault

Two Saskatoon police officers have been charged with aggravated assault after two unrelated incidents that both involved the use of police dogs.

In a media release Thursday, the Saskatoon Police Service said the officers — both members of the Canine Unit — are to be in Saskatoon Provincial Court next Wednesday at 2 pm

At the time they were charged, both Const. Cole Miklautsch and Const. Dennis Baron were placed on administrative duty and their dogs were taken out of the field.

Deputy Chief Mitch Yuzdepski spent eight years with the Saskatoon police canine unit. He said during a media conference that police dogs undergo a 16-week training process and are evaluated according to provincial standard.

Throughout their careers, the dogs continue to train regularly and face re-evaluation.

When fully staffed, Yuzdepski said Saskatoon police have nine canine teams that respond to more than 6,000 calls for service each year. In 2021, there were only 29 incidents involving canine contact.

Within the canine unit, there are general duty dogs, training and following profiles, agility, obedience, tracking, criminal apprehension and person and evidence searches. Some dogs are cross trained in specialties like drug and explosives detection.

In the 54 years the canine unit has been operating with Saskatoon police, Yuzdepski did not recall any other time when criminal charges have been laid against officers, though he said public complaints have been made against their dogs in the past.

Yuzdepski said police dogs will only apprehend someone in three situations: When they are threatened, when their handler is threatened, or when their handler tells them to.

“The dog is trained to bite and hold,” Yuzdepski said, referring to those situations.

Based on the amount of information he received about the incident, the deputy chief said he thought the dogs “did as the dog was trained to do.”

Chief Troy Cooper said the police service isn’t looking at making alterations to the canine unit program at this time, but if the case brings to light things that need changes, those may be considered at that time.

Miklautsch, a 13-year member of the unit, was charged in connection with a response to an incident in which a man allegedly tried to evade police.

On July 12, 2019 at around 8:50 pm, patrol officers spotted a man in a vehicle who was wanted on outstanding warrants. The officers tried to stop the vehicle, but it took off.

A police plane kept the vehicle in sight and guided ground units to an alley behind Milton Street, where the suspect abandoned the vehicle and ran away.

The canine officer told the man to stop, but he kept running. The police service dog “engaged the suspect,” police said in the release, and officers arrested the man. He subsequently was treated in hospital for a dog bite.

According to the release, the vehicle and its license plate had been stolen. The suspect was charged with possession of stolen property over $5,000, evading police, possession of false identity documents, and mischief.

Baron, also a 13-year member of the police service, was charged in connection with a response to a reported break-and-enter at a fenced compound on June 1, 2020 at around 9 pm

The officer was the first on scene and saw a man matching the suspect’s description running from the scene. The officer told the man to stop, but he didn’t.

Again, the police dog took down the suspect, who got treatment for a dog bite. The man was charged with break and enter, possession of methamphetamine, possession of mushrooms, and breach of conditions.

In both cases, formal complaints were made to the Provincial Complaints Commission and investigations were launched. On April 21 of this year, the police service was informed that, based on the PCC’s investigation, the Crown was recommending charges of aggravated assault.

“I want to ensure the public that while today’s announcement may be concerning, we have a very highly trained, professional Canine Unit,” Cooper said in the release. “We must respect the court process while continuing to take every opportunity to both support our members and review responses to calls for service where use of force is required.”

— With files from 650 CKOM’s Libby Giesbrecht

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