W-B To Start Training Police K-9s With Platoon Officers After Biting Incidents
WILKES-BARRE — The city will implement training on interaction with police K-9s for all department platoon officers in response to two incidents in which a police dog bit officers on their legs.
City Administrator Ted Wampole said on Tuesday that the move is a recommendation of Commander Joe Coffay based on his review of a Sept. 4 incident in which police 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 of a break-in.
Chase, a Belgian Malinois, was only recently returned to duty after being re-certified in response to three previous biting incidents. The dog bit suspects in the first two incidents in July 2017, and a police officer in the third incident last December.
Wampole said both Chase and Skoty, the police department’s other K-9, will be used solely for narcotics detection work until training of platoon officers is complete. He did not yet know how long the training would take or who would provide it.
Wampole said Coffay’s review of the Sept. 4 incident determined that, in his opinion, Chase’s handler, officer Joe Homza, did not violate any statutes, city ordinances, departmental policies or protocols for K-9 officers in connection with the incident.
“He conducted a proper track of a fleeing suspect,” Wampole said Coffay determined.
Asked whether Smith did anything improper or something that might have led the dog to bite him, Wampole said a reporter could “infer what you want from (the information provided from) the report,” but the report focused “more on (the actions of) Homza and the K-9” rather than on Smith.
Wampole declined to provide a copy of Coffay’s report. He said the city attorney would have to determine if the report can be released.
Wampole also said both K-9s would be sent to Penn Vet Working Dog Center — Law Enforcement K9 Training in Philadelphia for annual recertification around the end of September because their original trainer, Paul Price, of North East Police K-9 Academy in Wilkes-Barre Twp., is retiring.
The Sept. 4 incident took place around 4:30 p.m. as officers responded to 60 N. Hancock St. for a report of a break-in at a vacant property.
Upon arrival, Homza deployed Chase on a leash and established a perimeter while waiting for backup, according to charges filed against the suspects.
After surrounding the house, police took into custody three people who were inside. But a fourth person, Yusef Hassan Wright, 39, of Wilkes-Barre, jumped out a window and ran toward Dougher Lane, police 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 and then captured him.
The charges, which Homza prepared, made no 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, and the dog, for no apparent reason, bit Smith, one witness said.
“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.
A lawsuit that Chase’s first bite victim, Joshua Fought, filed against the city is progressing in U.S. District Court. Shabrei Parker, one of Fought’s attorneys, claimed that Chase and Homza were improperly trained and that the dog is “clearly dangerous.”
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