Case of B.C. man caught with 27,500 fentanyl pills thrown out due to Charter breach

‘Ambiguous’ signal by drug sniffer dog Doodz leads to B.C. Supreme Court decision

A man caught with 27,500 fentanyl pills in a van at a traffic stop in Chilliwack is free and clear after a B.C. Supreme Court justice dismissed charges due to Charter violations.

Sandor Rigo was driving a mini-van on Highway 1 on April 4, 2017 when he was pulled over by Cpl. Clayton Catelier, a police service dog handler with Fraser Valley Traffic Services, according to a decision posted on Jan. 21.

Catelier noticed a strong odour of cologne or air freshener in the minivan and several cellphones between the driver and passengers seats, both indicators of possible drug dealing.

Cpl. Catelier also noted that Rigo was “shaking violently.” Based on those three factors, and that Rigo had a “nonsensical” story about why he was travelling between Vancouver and Calgary, the officer detained Rigo for a drug investigation.

• RELATED: There have been 1,380 overdose deaths in B.C. this year: Coroner

The officer then deployed his police service dog, Doodz, to the exterior of the van. What happened next was the subject of some ambiguity, as Doodz seemed to be “in odour” (i.e. detecting drugs) and was bouncing her nose, wagging her tail and sniffing hard.

The dog then did a partial sit or attempted to sit but was blocked by a curb. Sitting is the indication the dog has found narcotics. Catelier then advised Rigo that Doodz had detected narcotics, and he was under arrest.

Rigo was transported to the Chilliwack detachment, and the vehicle was towed to a local tire shop. An initial search of the vehicle turned up nothing, but on closer attention, Catelier opened the housing over the right rear well and found five bags filled with fentanyl pills.

Defence called a former Anaheim County police dog handler deemed an expert who was critical of the video of Doodz’s behaviour and Catelier’s dog handling. Much of the decision in the voir dire addressing the alleged Charter violations was focused around the dog’s search.

In his written decision, Justice Michael Brundrett found that Catelier lawfully detained Rigo, he had reasonable grounds to conduct a dog-sniff search, but he questioned the purported alert by Doodz.

“I have found that the final sit confirmation was ambiguous and not sufficiently objectively reliable such that it adequately adds to the overall totality of circumstances so as to justify a search of the vehicle,” Justice Brundrett wrote.

Brundrett concluded the subsequent search was a violation of section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also found the officers involved did not properly offer Rigo the right to contact a lawyer, therefore there was also a violation of section 10(b) of the Charter.

• RELATED: Judge says B.C. drug dealer was ready for ‘gun warfare’


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paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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