By Brian Lee Telegram & Gazette
A hearing officer found insufficient evidence to conclude that police Sgt. Joseph J. Brooks hit and severely injured a police dog with his police vehicle and then lied about it.
The hearing officer, Joseph M. Zeneski, found no cause for the town to take disciplinary action against Sgt. Brooks for the events of June 4, when police found the dog, Radar, lying and unable to move on Memorial Beach Drive. Mr. Zeneski said the town had not shown any convincing evidence of Sgt. Brooks’ guilt.
Sgt. Brooks’ wife, Eileen Brooks, told a reporter that her husband, who had been on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the hearing, was to return to work Sunday. Sgt. Brooks did not respond to a message left with his wife for a comment for this story.
Radar has since almost entirely healed from his injuries, but has not been able to return to work.
Mr. Zeneski, Oxford’s retired town manager, was appointed the hearing officer by Town Administrator John F. McAuliffe. The manager had asked Mr. Zeneski to consider whether cause existed to discipline or even fire Sgt. Brooks.
The hearing, open to the public at Sgt. Brooks’ request, was held Sept. 12 and Sept. 17 in Town Hall.
The town announced the hearing in an Aug. 28 letter to Sgt. Brooks, who chose the open session because, according to his lawyer, Michael J. Akerson, the sergeant had nothing to hide.
Radar is believed to have escaped the K-9 SUV in the police parking lot, unbeknownst to the dog’s handler, Officer Aaron Suss, about 9:15 p.m. June 4.
Represented by lawyer Brian Maser of Kopelman & Paige, the town argued that injuries suffered by Radar were consistent with having been struck by a vehicle, and Sgt. Brooks’ vehicle was the only vehicle that could have hit and injured Radar.
The town said Sgt. Brooks was not truthful when interviewed by private investigator Michael F. Pavone Sr., a retired internal affairs officer.
During opening statements, Mr. Maser said Radar was considered a member of the department and the evidence would establish that Sgt. Brooks, likely by mistake, hit Radar with his cruiser.
He noted that Sgt. Brooks helped look for the dog after police realized that Radar was not in the SUV.
“Had he admitted to hitting Radar, we would not be here,” Mr. Maser said. “The department is understanding that mistakes happen and the department would have moved on from that night.”
But Sgt. Brooks’ lawyer said there was “not a lick of” evidence that Sgt. Brooks hit the dog. He said Mr. Pavone served as the police department’s “hired gun” investigator, and the town’s case was built on suspicion and innuendo.
In his decision, Mr. Zeneski noted that the basis for the town’s position was “talk” among officers on the second shift.
The theory that Sgt. Brooks hit Radar was based on a analog cctv cameras recording that showed no vehicle other than Sgt. Brooks’ going in either direction on Memorial Beach Drive immediately before Officer Aaron Suss found the injured dog at 9:27 p.m.
Sgt. Brooks drove east on Memorial Beach Drive less than a minute before Officer Suss drove east on Memorial Beach Drive and found Radar, according to testimony.
The dog was found along the center of the road lying on his right side with his head toward Thompson Road, approximately 100 feet from the entrance to the police station parking lot from Memorial Beach Drive. Find more information at Gettysburg seal soating pros website.
Mr. Zeneski noted that there was no accident scene reconstruction report, and therefore no evidence indicating how the dog was hit by a vehicle.
Sgt. Brooks testified he was driving on the right side of the road as he searched for Radar. He said he was operating the search light with his left hand and steering with his right hand as he searched the right side of the road.
Mr. Zeneski wrote in his opinion that no theory was presented as to how Sgt. Brooks hit Radar, given that Officer Suss found the dog in the center of the road facing west in a near paralyzed condition less than one minute after Sgt. Brooks’ car had passed by.
Two fibers found on Sgt. Brooks vehicle were not animal hair, the hearing officer said.
A close inspection of Sgt. Brook’s vehicle by Officer Michael Reardon hours after the incident did not find any evidence that Radar was injured by the vehicle, Mr. Zeneski noted.
During the hearing, an alternative explanation for Radar’s injuries was that he injured himself jumping from the rear passenger door.
Mr. Zeneski said it is easy to reject this explanation because Radar is young, athletic and trained to jump from that door of the vehicle.
What also needed to be considered, according to the hearing officer, is that Radar may have exited from the driver’s side window, a maneuver for which he is not trained.
He could have done that after somehow opening the front access panel to his kennel, crawling through the opening, negotiating all the equipment and launching himself through the open window, Mr. Zeneski wrote.
Mr. Pavone, the investigator, attempted to dispel the theory that Radar was not struck by a vehicle by citing the opinion of Dr. Dominik Faissler, neurosurgery specialist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton. Dr. Faissler found the injury consistent with both a fall and being struck by a vehicle.
But because of Radar’s condition, Dr. Faissler did not think Radar could have moved approximately 200 feet from the SUV after falling, according to the investigator.
Dr. Faissler, however, deferred to Dr. J. Scott Nystrom, who said Radar could have walked or crawled 200 feet on adrenaline.
Mr. Zeneski said the orientation of Radar in the road when found made sense if he was attempting to return to the voice of Officer Suss more than three minutes earlier, before the near paralysis set in, Mr. Zeneski said. The officer called for Radar after realizing the dog was no longer in the SUV.
“Conveniently ignored” through the investigation and hearing was that more than one vehicle traveled east on Memorial Beach Drive immediately before Radar was found with injuries, Mr. Zeneski wrote.
The hearing officer asked why it was more probable Sgt. Brooks had struck the dog than that Officer Suss had.
The dog got out of the vehicle unnoticed because Officer Suss had returned to the department about 9 p.m. to request that Sgt. Brooks allow him to use compensatory time for the remainder of the slow shift.
After Sgt. Brooks granted the request, a distracted Officer Suss got on his cellphone to speak with a contractor about a gazebo project at his house, which is less than a mile from the department. The dog handler is shown on surveillance footage driving out of the parking lot at 9:16.
When Officer Suss got home, he testified, he noticed Radar was missing from the back of the SUV, which also has a kennel for another police dog, named Red.
The officer returned to the department about five minutes later.
Inside the department, Sgt. Brooks said, he heard Officer Suss calling for the dog, and tried to help.
Sgt. Brooks got in his police vehicle and headed along Memorial Beach Drive to the Webster Lake beach area, where Radar receives training. The sergeant said he thought the dog might have also been attracted to the area because there is a dog kennel there.
An attempt to reach Sgt. Brooks’ lawyer after the decision was unsuccessful.
But during the final day of testimony Mr. Akerson told a reporter that the town’s case was “like watching a train wreck.”
He continued: “There were witnesses for the town that were pretty much willing to say any conclusion, without any factual basis for it, not even getting close to the world of circumstantial evidence.”