Webster sergeant fights for job over injury to police dog

By Brian Lee | Telegram

WEBSTER — A hearing during which Police Sgt. Joseph Brooks was accused of striking and injuring a police dog with his vehicle on June 4 wrapped up Wednesday at Town Hall.

The 14-year veteran of the department is on paid leave and is fighting for his job amid two theories about what happened to the Dutch shepherd, named Radar, just out of view of a police surveillance camera on Memorial Beach Drive.

The reports show that the town’s allegation is based on an investigation headed by private investigator Michael Pavone, a retired state police detective lieutenant.

Soon after the accident, police told the press and wrote on social media that the dog had escaped Officer Aaron Suss’ SUV before the injury. The officer is the dog’s handler.

Radar is about 95 percent healed from his injuries, but is not back in service, police say.

Sgt. Brooks, meanwhile, is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the civil service hearing, for which Town Administrator John F. McAuliffe appointed Joseph Zeneski, the retired Oxford town manager, as hearing officer.

Sgt. Brooks’ lawyer, Michael J. Akerson of Worcester, said during an interview that Police Chief Timothy J. Bent is seeking to terminate Sgt. Brooks.

Mr. Akerson said his client opted for an open hearing because he had nothing to hide, and the level of evidence against him was “insignificant, less than an amoeba.”

Officer Aaron Suss testified that he noticed after his short ride home after 9 p.m. June 4 that Radar was not with him, and he returned to the station to look for him. He found the dog bleeding from his mouth or nose and unable to move on Memorial Beach Drive a short distance from the station just after 9:26 p.m.

Sgt. Brooks testified that he had driven down the road to look for the dog after he was told Radar was missing, and when he came to the accident site he thanked God that he hadn’t struck the dog.

Both men testified that they were friendly to each other and socialize outside of work. Officer Suss said he didn’t want to see anyone get in trouble.

Officer Suss testified that a doctor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton had asked in a questioning tone if anyone had actually seen Radar get hit by a car. The officer said no, it was only his assumption because he had been found in the road.

Doctors said the dog had not suffered any broken bones, but discovered a “road rash on his nose.” It was later revealed that the dog had suffered a fracture of his spinal process.

Officer Suss testified that Lt. Michael D. Shaw, who was not on duty but had gone to the hospital to check on Officer Suss and his dog, suggested the theory that the dog had fallen out of the SUV.

“We were trying to put heads together about how he might have gotten hurt,” Officer Suss said.

The officer also testified that he had checked the immediate area two times while on foot with the aid of a flashlight.

After Officer Suss radioed that he had found Radar, two other officers left the station and arrived at the scene before Sgt. Brooks. The two other officers were possibly already out of their cars by the time Sgt. Brooks arrived.

Town lawyer Brian Maser attacked the story. The lawyer estimated that it took Sgt. Brooks 90 seconds to arrive back at the scene, but he had only been about 500 yards away at the town boathouse to look for the dog.

The lawyer also asked how Sgt. Brooks could not have seen the dog when he was with Officer Suss looking for Radar. Mr. Zeneski said he will review the transcript of the case when the transcript is completed and write an opinion of whether there is cause to fire Sgt. Brooks.

It will be given to the town administrator, the appointing authority, who wanted to be hands-off on the matter, according to Mr. Zeneski.

Mr. Akerson said during an interview the town had offered “zero” physical evidence after it had claimed to have found dog hairs that, after testing, were determined to be human hair.

He said the town’s case was based on speculation supported by guesswork and assumptions.

One of the more than two dozen exhibits included a letter from Radar’s Webster-based veterinarian that suggested that an adrenaline surge would have given him a short burst of injury to run away from the pain, during which his spinal cord began swelling and ended his run quickly because of paralysis. The vet said this was only a theory based on where the dog was found and on the injuries.

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