W-B K-9 Again Out Of Service After Biting Officer
WILKES-BARRE — The city police dog removed from service earlier this year for biting three people — including a police officer — bit another police officer while pursuing a suspect in a break-in on Tuesday afternoon.
The K-9, Chase, bit officer Shane Smith on the leg while the officer was holding a perimeter during the search for a man who had fled the scene.
Chase, a Belgian Malinois, was only recently returned to duty after being re-certified in response to the previous biting incidents.
Police Commander Joseph Coffay did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday, but City Administrator Ted Wampole said Chase has been temporarily removed from service.
“Just to be cautious, we took Chase off the street until we get a review of the situation to see if it was either a K-9 issue or if it was a human issue,” Wampole said. “We won’t know until we complete that review.”
An attorney who is currently suing the city over one of the bites said the latest incident shows Chase is “clearly dangerous” and that its handler, officer Joseph Homza, was inadequately trained.
“We’re convinced that K-9 Chase and officer Homza were not properly trained,” said Shabrei Parker, of the Philadelphia law firm Mincey & Fitzpatrick, LLC. “Further, the city’s allowance of the use of a dog that is clearly dangerous shows a disregard for the safety of civilians and officers alike.”
The incident took place around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday as officers responded to 60 N. Hancock St. to a report of a break-in at a vacant property.
Upon arrival, Homza deployed his dog, Chase, on a leash and established a perimeter while waiting for backup, according to charges filed against the suspects.
After surrounding the house, police knocked on the door and were eventually greeted by Alissa Karen Wright, 28, of Wilkes-Barre. Wright claimed to live at the home, despite it being a bank-owned vacant property, police said.
Police took Wright into custody along with two men who were with her, Brian Kwashnik, 38, of Ashley, and Mark Allen Naples, 39, of Luzerne. But then a fourth person, 39-year-old Yusef Hassan Wright, of Wilkes-Barre, jumped out a window and began running toward Dougher Lane, the charges said.
Smith climbed a fence and ordered Yusef Wright to stop, and then deployed his Taser when Yusef Wright continued running, according to the complaints. But the Taser missed, and Smith began a foot chase that led to the area of Dougher Lane and Walter’s Way, police said.
Believing Yusef Wright was hiding in the area of a corner house, police set up a perimeter and brought in Chase, who picked up his scent, the complaints said. The dog tracked Yusef Wright to the corner, where police saw him poke his head over a fence.
Police then captured Yusef Wright and charged all four suspects with criminal trespassing, according to a news release the department issued about the incident.
Neither the initial news release nor the charges — which Chase’s handler Homza prepared — make any mention of an officer being bitten during the pursuit.
But sources familiar with the case told The Citizens’ Voice Smith was bitten in the leg as he stood in an alley off Dougher Lane during the search for Yusef Wright.
Smith had been holding the perimeter when Homza led Chase past him in search of the suspect when the dog, for no apparent reason, bit Smith, according to one witness.
“The dog latched onto Shane Smith’s leg,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “His calf was pretty torn up.”
Smith was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment, the witness said.
An updated news release police issued later Wednesday to acknowledge the bite said Smith was treated and released for a puncture wound and a cut to the leg.
Chase was only recently returned to duty this summer after being re-trained following a series of biting incidents. The cases included Chase biting a suspect and latching onto a police officer’s leg during an apprehension, as well as biting another man during a high-profile arrest on Public Square last summer.
In that case, police alleged Chase jumped up to “assist” in the arrest of Joshua Fought, 44, who Homza claimed had struggled during the confrontation.
But in June, a jury found Fought not guilty of resisting arrest over the incident. Fought now has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against the city alleging Chase attacked him “suddenly and without warning.”
Mayor Tony George ordered Chase and the department’s other K-9 Skoty removed from duty earlier this year, after Chase’s third biting incident. In June, city officials signed a contract to have Chase and Homza recertified, as well as to train Skoty and his handler, officer Dan Roper.
Both K-9s completed the training and were returned to service, Wampole said.
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