A Michigan state trooper has been acquitted by a jury after facing charges of felonious assault for using a police dog to subdue an unarmed, injured man in 2020, according to prosecutors. The incident, which was captured on a dashboard camera, took place on November 13, 2020, in Lansing, Michigan. Trooper Parker Surbrook attempted to pull over a vehicle with two individuals suspected of being armed, later identified as Robert Gilliam and an unnamed passenger, when Gilliam sped off, leading to a chase that ended with the vehicle crashing into a tree. Gilliam, who suffered a fractured hip, exited the car and fell to the ground. Trooper Surbrook, accompanied by his German shepherd partner Knox, commanded the dog to subdue Gilliam, who could be heard pleading for the dog to be removed. The video footage displayed the dog holding onto Gilliam and appearing to bite him multiple times.
While the dog remained on Gilliam, officers recovered a handgun from the unnamed passenger who had been handcuffed. Gilliam, who repeatedly requested the removal of the dog, was hospitalized for his hip fracture and treated for bite injuries. However, he was not charged with any crimes. Trooper Surbrook was subsequently suspended without pay, removed from the canine unit, and charged with felonious assault in 2021. The charge could have resulted in a prison sentence of up to four years. Surbrook pleaded not guilty and was granted a $5,000 bond.
Michigan State Police Director, Col. Joseph Gasper, stated at the time that Surbrook’s actions did not align with professional conduct, training standards, or policies for canine handlers. However, Patrick O’Keefe, Surbrook’s lawyer, argued that his client’s use of force was justified, emphasizing that the video did not provide the full context of the confrontation.
In a recent development, the jury in Michigan’s 30th Judicial Circuit Court found Trooper Surbrook not guilty after approximately two and a half hours of deliberation and a three-day trial. O’Keefe asserted that Surbrook acted reasonably in “a highly stressful, potentially lethal situation” while backup officers took an unusually long time to arrive at the scene.
Despite the acquittal, Trooper Surbrook remains on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation, according to the Michigan State Police. His status in the canine unit will be determined after the investigation’s completion. On the other hand, Robert Gilliam still has an ongoing federal case against the State of Michigan and Trooper Surbrook, seeking damages and a jury trial. However, his lawyer in that case could not be reached for comment.
The outcome of this case highlights the controversy surrounding the use of force by law enforcement officers and the legal repercussions they may face. The incident has further emphasized the need for careful evaluation and scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding police encounters to ensure accountability and justice.