Nelson’s police chief has cleared one of his officers of misconduct, even though the investigator in the case believed there was sufficient grounds to uphold the complaint.
Ronald Bendle, a Nelson senior, claims he was the victim of excessive force and abuse of authority at the hands of Sgt. Nathaniel Holt during a routine traffic stop on June 10, 2021. He filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner a year later.
Bendle claims Holt assaulted him after he was pulled over by Cst. Lisa Schmidtke for failing to stop at a stop sign on Mill Street.
Vista Radio obtained Chief Donovan Fisher’s disciplinary decision, which includes many details of the incident not previously reported, including Holt’s belief that Bendle had a knife and had threatened to harm Schmidtke.
Bendle alleged Holt beat him over the head with a gun and that he sustained three fractures to his face, one above the eye, another above his cheek and the last above his jaw. He also indicated in the complaint that his body was black and blue as a result.
In his complaint, Bendle said he went back to the hospital ten days after the incident and learned he also had a fractured arm. He claims all of his injuries were the result of the altercation with Holt.
Bendle told the OPCC that he requested a copy of his hospital records and would provide them to aid the investigation. However, investigating officer Sgt. Scott Hyde of the Vancouver Police Department stated in his report that Bendle failed to provide the records and refused to participate in the investigation despite Hyde’s numerous attempts to obtain a statement.
The OPCC determined that, if substantiated, Bendle’s accusations would constitute misconduct and could potentially be defined as abuse of authority as outlined in the Police Act.
Hyde was provided with witness information and statements, departmental records, audio records, legal statues, and dash camera footage to aid in the investigation.
The report states Holt heard Bendle say “That’s it, I think I have a knife, I need a knife, I’m going to end this, I’m stabbing her,” and assumed he was referring to Schmidtke.
The report states that Holt was unable to see if Bendle had obtained a knife in his glove box but believed that he could have.
When Bendle exited his vehicle, Holt perceived the situation to be a lethal force encounter and withdrew his pistol, which the report states was appropriate according to national guidelines. .
Holt said he came around the vehicle to challenge Bendle and yelled at him to stop and that he was under arrest.
Dash camera footage contradicted Holt’s statement and showed him running towards Bendle, grabbing him and yelling “get on the ground.” The footage demonstrated that Holt did not withdraw his weapon in accordance with guidelines by using verbal commands first.
The footage showed that he closed the distance between himself and Bendle before determining if the situation warranted the potential use of his weapon.
In Holt’s statement he said that as he approached Bendle he could see he didn’t have a knife, but he still believed he was in a lethal encounter as Bendle could have been reaching for one in the back of the vehicle.
Holt also indicated Bendle lunged at him, but the dash camera footage showed Holt initiated contact after he had his pistol in his hand.
Hyde determined that based on the dash cam footage, Bendle’s behavior could be described as active resistance or assaultive, warranting a physical response, including the use of weapons.
Holt, in his statement, said, “at this point, my options were pretty limited” and proceeded to brachial stun Bendle with his weapon in his hand. The stun involves a sharp blow to the side of the neck, causing the loss of consciousness with a shock to the carotid artery, jugular vein, and vagus nerve.
The tactic is taught at the Justice Institute of British Columbia and is supposed to be used to distract a suspect, giving the officer a chance to disengage and switch to another force option.
However, Hyde wrote when Holt used the tactic against Bendle, it was not in accordance with what is taught at the JIBC. The dash camera footage showed Holt escalating attempts to stun Bendle by striking him over the head three times with his pistol. Holt claimed his stun attempts were not affective, stating “I didn’t hit the right spot and I continued to try and do that, to give him a brachial stun to stop the threat.”
The report states Hyde kept in mind the circumstances as they existed in the moment, as a police officer can’t be expected to measure the need for force with precision and must base the decision on what was necessary in the moment.
Hyde was also required to consider the fact that investigating the use of force largely relies on frame-by-frame analysis of video footage, whereas officers are not given the same opportunity, forcing “split second decisions” in incidents like the one between Holt and Bendle.
The report also highlighted that police officers are not required to use minimal force during altercations as it could put the officer in danger, but “as much force as necessary.”
Hyde agreed that Holt had reasonable grounds to think that the use of force against Bendle was necessary, however Hyde still felt Holt’s use of force was disproportionate and unreasonable.
He noted while Holt believed Bendle was going to stab Schmidtke, at that point she was in her police vehicle writing the traffic ticket and not close to Bendle. Holt was behind the passenger side of Bendle’s vehicle and didn’t see Bendle holding a knife as he got out of his car.
Hyde felt Holt “recklessly closed the distance to Mr. Bendle and initiated first contact” and concluded the allegations were substantiated.
After Hyde submitted his report, Nelson Police Chief Constable Donovan Fisher began his internal investigation and came to the opposite conclusion of Sgt. Hyde.
Fisher’s reported stated the dash camera footage from Cst. Schmidtke’s vehicle observes Schmidtke approaching the driver’s side of Bendle’s vehicle in a non-aggressive manner. After informing Bendle of the traffic volitation, Schmidtke can be seen walking back towards her police vehicle as Bendle starts to become very agitated. Bendle can be seen in the footage slamming his arms on the steering wheel causing the vehicle to bounce around.
Fisher also noted that Bendle was yelling and swearing loudly enough for a recording device in Schmidtke’s vehicle to pick up.
Fisher’s report states that Schmidtke was clearly startled by the outburst from Bendle and immediately called for a second unit to her location for help dealing with a “irate male” through her police radio.
Bendle was still yelling and acting aggressively, throwing his vehicle documents out the window at Schmidtke, as Sgt. Holt pulled up to assist.
In the footage Bendle can be seen ‘thrashing around inside the vehicle while still yelling’ as Schmidtke tried to communicate with him and gather his driving documents.
Sgt. Holt was then informed by Schmidtke of Bendle’s ongoing outburst. Schmidtke also informed Holt that she also believes Bendle had bear spray in the vehicle.
As Schmidtke walked to her vehicle, Holt approached the back of Bendle’s. Fisher’s report states that the action did not appear to be aggressive from the dash camera footage.
As he moves in on Bendle’s vehicle, Holt is seen quickly reaching for his pistol, at the same time Bendle can be seen aggressively exiting his vehicle. Holt moved in on Bendle, who can be seen also moving towards Holt. Bendle then yanked open the back door where Holt grabbed him and began yelling commands for him to get on the ground.
Fisher’s report stated that he found Holt’s statement credible and that he was reasonable to believe Bendle was a threat and could have had a knife.
Fisher stated that as Bendle exited the vehicle towards the back door it can be seen in the footage that he had nothing in his hand. However, as Bendle frantically tried to open the backdoor Fisher said there was no way for Holt to know whether or not there was a knife in the backseat.
Fisher said that he believes Holt was forced to make a split-second decision to intercept Bendle as he got out of his vehicle. Once Holt engaged with Bendle and prevented him to accessing the back of his car, Holt had disengaged, but there was still a likely fear that Bendle could still access whatever he was trying to get from the back of the car, which fisher feels was reasonable grounds to use lethal force.
Fisher said that although he agrees with the assessment that during the physical altercation between the two men, Bendle would have been acting in an active resistant manner, there was still an element of death or bodily harm present if Bendle was able to break free from the officers to retrieve a knife.
Fisher stated that the business of policing is often times messy, and there is no doubt that in this altercation was ugly, especially the blows over the head with the pistol as an impact weapon. Despite that, Fisher says during all of this Bendle was still not complying with loud, verbal commands to get on the ground and struggling with the officers, grabbing Sgt. Holt.
He determined that the entire situation was instigated by Bendle, and that he further escalated it with his aggressive exit out of the vehicle.
He said that the fact that Bendle was yelling that he wanted to kill himself in no way lessens the threat to the officers. Bendle’s continued comments that he was going to get a knife to “cut his wrists” suggested to Fisher that even Bendle believed he had a knife in his vehicle and that a knife was, in fact, what he was trying to get.
Fisher said the scenario unfolded quickly, and was not handled textbook, but based on the evidence provided and review of the principles of force, he believes Sgt. Holt was unable to disengage.
After attempting three impact blows to acceptable strike zones, Holt was still unable to stop the threat. Fisher says that at the time, the top of Bendle’s head was the only clear target as Bendle was bent forward trying to grab onto Holt’s face.
He wrapped up his review with a statement determining that based on the balance of probabilities, he believes that Sgt. Holt acted reasonably, lawfully and used the required amount of force under the circumstances. As a result, he concluded that the allegation of abuse of authority was not substantiated.
Bendle had ten days after the investigation decision was completed to file a grievance if he was unhappy with the decision. The document was submitted to the OPCC on May 23.
Vista reached out to an advocate for Bendle to inquire on whether he did, but have not heard back.