Michigan Trooper Acquitted of Using Dog to Subdue a Man


A state trooper in Michigan has been acquitted by a jury after being charged with felonious assault for using a police dog to subdue an unarmed, injured man in 2020, prosecutors said.

The encounter, which was recorded on a dashboard camera, occurred on Nov. 13, 2020, in Lansing, Mich., when the trooper, Parker Surbrook, tried to pull over a vehicle whose driver, later identified as Robert Gilliam, and passenger were suspected of being armed, the authorities said. Trooper Surbrook was part of a violent crime reduction unit made up of multiple law enforcement jurisdictions at the time.

During the stop, however, Mr. Gilliam sped off, prompting a chase that ended when his vehicle crashed into a tree, according to dashboard camera footage released by the authorities in 2021 and an investigation by the Michigan State Police. Mr. Gilliam got out of the car and fell to the ground with a fractured hip, according to the investigation report, which did not name the passenger.

Trooper Surbrook, who worked in the canine unit with a German shepherd named Knox, instructed the dog to subdue Mr. Gilliam, who can be heard in the video pleading for the trooper to pull Knox off him. The video showed the dog putting Mr. Gilliam into a hold, and it appeared to bite him several times.

“Stay on him,” Trooper Surbrook can be heard telling the dog in the video. “Good boy.”

Officers said they recovered a handgun from the unnamed passenger, who was handcuffed, as the dog remained on Mr. Gilliam, who repeatedly begged for the animal to be removed. Mr. Gilliam was hospitalized for the hip fracture and treated for bite injuries, the investigation report said. He was not charged with any crimes.

Trooper Surbrook was suspended without pay, removed from the canine unit and charged with felonious assault in 2021 after the incident. The charge carried a penalty of up to four years in prison. He pleaded not guilty and was granted $5,000 bond, according to court records.

The director of the Michigan State Police, Col. Joseph Gasper, said in a statement at the time that the trooper’s actions were not consistent with standards of professional conduct or training and policy for canine handlers. Patrick O’Keefe, a lawyer for the trooper, said at the time that his client’s use of force was justified and that the video did not show the full context of the confrontation.

On Tuesday, in Michigan’s 30th Judicial Circuit Court, a jury found Trooper Surbrook not guilty, according to an statement by prosecutors. The Lansing State Journal reported that the verdict came after about two and a half hours of jury deliberation and a three-day trial.

Mr. O’Keefe said, according to The Journal’s report, that Trooper Surbrook acted reasonably during “a highly stressful, potentially lethal situation” in which backup officers took an unusually long time to arrive at the scene. Mr. O’Keefe could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

“Yes, he fled. Yes, he committed a felony,” Kristen Rolph, an assistant prosecutor, said about Mr. Gilliam in her closing argument, according to The Journal. “That doesn’t mean that what happened to him was something he deserved.”

The Michigan State Police said on Thursday that Trooper Surbrook would remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. His status in the canine unit would be determined after the investigation’s completion, the police said.

Mr. Gilliam still has a federal case pending against the State of Michigan and Trooper Surbrook, seeking damages and a jury trial. His lawyer in that case could not be reached for comment on Thursday.


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