A British Columbia Police Commission adjudicator has strongly rebuked the Abbotsford police department for a raid that backfired when gun-toting officers burst in to a suspected drug dealer's home only to find a house filled with children celebrating a birthday party.
Police also shot and killed a pit bull that jumped at an officer who had pushed a woman to the floor seconds after a six-member tactical team surged through the front door of Ronald Raber's home on Jan. 3, 1999. Charges stemming from the raid against Mr. Raber were eventually stayed.
Retired Supreme Court judge Peter Millward said police went overboard.
"The . . . shooting of the dog, twice, and the strident bursting into the home of six gun-wielding masked officers caused a high degree of agitation among the 13 adults and 14 children, none of whom were shown to have any connection to . . . illegal drugs and [the]suspected weapon which were the target of the warrant."
The raid prompted widespread criticism of police given the nature of Mr. Raber's suspected crimes. Several of the guests, who had gathered for Mr. Raber's son's seventh birthday, laid complaints with the B.C. Police Commission.
Police had Mr. Raber under surveillance for months and suspected he was selling drugs, particularly marijuana. An earlier search warrant yielded drug paraphernalia, a .22 rifle and some ammunition.
At the time of the raid, the children had gathered in the living room for birthday cake. One woman was breast-feeding her two-month-old while her two other children sat at her feet. Beside them was Mr. Raber's dog, Kona.
Mr. Raber, who was the host, was in the kitchen cutting the cake when officers wearing balaclavas and goggles burst into the living room, shouting: "Police. Everyone get down."
The hearing was ordered by police complaint commissioner Don Morrison, after an outside police investigation recommended no disciplinary measures be taken against the officers. The officers always maintained that they didn't know the birthday party was going on until they barged in.
However, Mr. Millward took a much harsher view of police conduct and singled out two officers, Constable Matthew Sekela, who led the raid, and Constable David Schmirler, who shot the dog.
Mr. Millward said Constable Sekela received plenty of warnings that day that several children were at the Raber residence. Earlier in the party, children were playing road hockey in the driveway. In addition, Constable Sekela had pulled Mr. Raber over earlier in the day, and Mr. Raber told him he was driving downtown to shop for birthday presents and cake for his son. During the hearing, Constable Sekela denied parts of this story.
Constable Schmirler testified at the hearing that he thought only two or three children were there.
"Constable Sekela knew or ought reasonably to have known of the presence of children in the house," Mr. Millward wrote in a nine-page judgment released yesterday. The judge found Constable Sekela guilty of discreditable conduct for executing the warrant while the children were present and failing to properly survey the house before executing the warrant.
Mr. Millward said Constable Schmirler overreacted and endangered lives when he shot the dog.
"To instantly fire two shots toward the dog without considering alternatives or comprehending the surroundings was to act without reasonable grounds," Mr. Millward said, criticizing him for failing to consider "a lesser means of force."
The judgment found Constable Schmirler guilty of improper use of a firearm.