An Alberta woman apprehended by an RCMP dog is suing the force claiming she was severely injured, partially disabled and permanently scarred after the animal mauled her during the execution of a search warrant in August 2020.
Arlene Lagimodiere, 43, alleges she now struggles to walk and requires ongoing rehabilitation therapy because the dog “partially devoured” her left leg during the RCMP joint operation with First Nations police on Sandy Bay First Nation in Manitoba.
“That whole experience was extremely traumatizing,” said Lagimodiere in a phone interview from her home in Airdrie, Alta. “It was so horrible. I have nightmares all the time about this. I’m scared of my very own huskie dog. I’m terrified of my own dog now.”
The Mounties had deployed the canine alongside a tactical unit, an armoured vehicle, a drone unit and a gas team after they received a tip that a male suspect, potentially with armed guards, was dealing crack and meth from a camper on the First Nation, according to a report by the province’s Independent Investigation Unit (IIU).
Lagimodiere said she arrived at the camper at the same time as the large police squad. She fled and lay in some nearby tall grass when she saw it. That’s where the dog eventually sniffed her out and shredded her limb while detaining her.
“After the attack, the plaintiffs’ bone, ligament and adipose tissue were exposed and pieces of her flesh were left on the ground,” reads her Jan. 14, 2021 statement of claim. “The injuries were so severe that the plaintiff required in patient hospital care for approximately one month and reconstructive surgery to graft skin over the areas of the injury.”
The claim seeks unspecified damages alleging the Mounties failed to control the dog, which the RCMP denies. The Mounties argue in a statement of defence filed a few months later the force “satisfied all required duties” deploying the dog, which only “apprehended” and didn’t “attack” her.
Lagimodiere’s lacerations were serious enough to spark a mandatory probe by Manitoba’s civilian oversight agency known as the IIU, which began investigating on Aug. 27, 2020.
IIU investigators spent the next six months reviewing evidence including RCMP reports, notes, narratives, photos, videos, surveillance footage, medical records, radio transmissions and the force’s dog policy handbook.
Investigators interviewed Lagimodiere, one civilian witness and eight Mounties but was unable to locate another man who was bit, while the police handler refused to talk.
They opted not to lay criminal charges against the handler in a Feb. 24, 2021 final report that deemed the dog use “appropriate, measured and justified in these circumstances.”
But Lagimodiere said this decision and the report left her feeling like justice hadn’t been served.
“How could you not find fault with this?” she said. “Why is it OK for the police and the dog to be going to chew somebody up that’s laying there on the ground?”
IIU investigation depicts large raid
The IIU report paints a detailed picture of the operation that began at 6 a.m. when the squad swooped in for the drug raid. A Mountie told the IIU a heavy police response was needed “based on a risk assessment done by the investigators.”
The canine unit and an RCMP Emergency Response Team (ERT) approached the camper from behind while the armoured vehicle with its lights and siren blaring rumbled in from the front. The drone buzzed overhead as a four-man gas team prepared to smoke the occupants out.
A Mountie who recalled this scene said he spotted a black shotgun on the ground as he approached from behind. He said he then saw a man clad in a bulletproof vest hiding in a ditch, whom he arrested before heading to the camper to gas it.
Meanwhile, the dog handler had slipped into a bushy area to sniff out potential suspects, according to a written statement the officer sent investigators. He refused to provide notes or sit for an interview, which officers subject to a third-party probe in Manitoba have a legal right to do.
According to the statement, the handler entered the “dense bush” with “concerns for the safety of himself and the lives of fellow officers” because he feared armed suspects might be lurking. The Mountie said he “began to react to persons potentially in the vicinity” as the dog led the search at the end of a 30-foot leash.
The handler said he found a man in the bush and released the dog which clamped the man’s forearm. The handler said the suspect tried to fight it off, so the Mountie grabbed him and punched him several times in the head and gut while the dog kept biting.
More officers arrived to finish the arrest, and the handler continued searching.
Conflicting accounts of arrest
That’s when he found Lagimodiere lying prone in the grass.
Lagimodiere remembers hearing the other man “yelling for dear life” while being bit, the tear gas bomb exploding, loud banging and the general commotion of the raid.
“I was terrified,” she told APTN News. “I laid there, put my hands behind my back and just stayed there because I knew I was going to be apprehended … They should’ve put handcuffs on me. But no. The dog bit my shoulder.”
The handler said he suspected she was armed and “needed to be apprehended before she could escape or attack,” and that’s when the German shepherd started biting.
She “tried to fend off the dog,” the handler claimed, “which resulted in the dog biting harder and causing more injury.” But Lagimodiere told the IIU “someone pushed the police dog’s head into her body and the dog was chewing at her.”
@jacksinlagimodiere #justice4jacksinTHE RESULT OF MB K-9 ERT UNIT 100% FACEDOWN UNARMED ARMS BEHIND MY BACK WAITING TO BE CUFFED & DETAINED #Justice4jacksin ♬ Warrior – Avril Lavigne
She told APTN, “If there was perhaps any kicking, it was because of the pain. While this dog is ripping your leg apart … how could you not move?”
The Mountie said Lagimodiere “brought her hands from underneath her” revealing she was unarmed, so he ordered her to stop fighting and lay on her belly again. But Lagimodiere disputes this account too.
“I never laid there with my hands underneath me. And yes, of course he’s going to say that,” she told APTN. “There is my word against theirs, and they’re going to say that to cover themselves up. I know I would never, ever lay there with my hands underneath me.”
Lagimodiere was among the raid’s “primary targets,” the ERT leader told investigators. She was one of seven charged with a drug offence in connection with the operation but wasn’t convicted. Her charges were stayed on Dec. 22, 2020.
The agency reviewed video of the operation but none of it showed her arrest and could thus resolve the conflicting accounts.
Two officers said the handler seemed to have “complete control” of his dog, which the IIU accepted. The investigators concluded the animal “reacted as it is trained and bit” her.
Nevertheless, Lagimodiere’s claim alleges the Mounties “had a strict duty to control their animal to prevent harm to persons and property, in which duty they failed.”
Dog considered an ‘intermediate weapon’
Police dogs “are taught to protect their handlers, themselves or to apprehend upon command,” according to the RCMP website. “Any that display reluctance to do so are not accepted.”
German shepherds trained to apprehend “will invariably make a successful arrest despite the fact they are trained only to hold, never to be savage,” the site continues.
The IIU reviewed the RCMP dog handler’s guide with a specific focus on tracking and apprehension.
Under the manual, a dog is considered an “intermediate weapon” similar to a stun gun that officers “may provide verbal warnings before deploying.”
Once in hospital, Lagimodiere took pictures of the gruesome wounds. She posted a slideshow of them to the popular social media site TikTok.
The video shows three separate injuries. The first looks like a roughly eight-inch cut across the left side of her upper back.
The other two show injuries consistent with the description in the claim: a bone protruding from a large open wound near the left knee with a similar laceration on the upper left thigh.
The IIU reviewed Lagimodiere’s medical records and confirmed she “sustained a severe wound to her left leg caused by” the dog.
The medical records described the wounds as large medial and lateral bites requiring skin graft surgery, rehab and pain control.
“It’s so damaging, not only the leg part but inside my mind,” Lagimodiere added. “I can’t even have dog in my home anymore. I can’t even be anywhere near a dog. I tried to but I can’t do it.”
The force said it couldn’t comment on the civil case when contacted by APTN but pointed to the IIU’s decision not to lay criminal charges.
The case is moving toward pre-trial but with no set date for a hearing.