WILKES-BARRE — The head of the city police union has started a 15-day unpaid suspension.
Another officer was notified he faces 45 days off without pay.
Meanwhile, one of the K9 squad dogs was taken out of service for biting an officer and two other people.
Morale within the department was already low because of the contentious relationship between the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association and Chief Marcella Lendacky. It sunk further as a result of the recent disciplinary actions.
And Sgt. Phil Myers, president of the PBA, wondered if the biting dog would lead to yet another officer’s suspension.
Myers said he began a 15-day suspension Wednesday for an alleged violation last year. He declined to identify the other officer given notice of the pending suspension.
“We don’t believe he did anything wrong. We’re not exactly sure what he did wrong,” Myers said Thursday.
More details should be available after the PBA files a grievance on behalf of the officer and subpoenas documents from the police administration, Myers said.
He is certain of one thing, however; the suspension will be costly.
“I would estimate it’s going to cost him over $10,000,” Myers said.
A message left late Thursday afternoon for the chief was not returned. Mayor Tony George, a former police chief who chose Lendacky to run the department, said the suspension was handled by the police administration.
George’s appointment of Lendacky as chief in March 2016 opened the divide between the union and his administration. In a 13-page letter at the time, the PBA raised its concerns to mayor and questioned her qualifications and leadership skills.
Over the past two years, the divide has widened as a result of suspensions and dismissals, including the October firing of patrolman Dan Duffy, PBA vice president and former chief of the Scranton Police Department. Duffy was terminated for an alleged threat contained in an email to the mayor in defense of a union member.
Last week, Myers and Duffy sued the city, the mayor, the chief and Commander Ron Foy in federal court, alleging retaliation against union officials for bringing to light mismanagement of the department. They also accused Lendacky of altering reports to show a decrease in crime.
Amidst all the turmoil, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association has been quietly going about its business conducting a departmental assessment. The Harrisburg-based group was hired in November at a cost of $26,212 after city council, alarmed at the growing discord in the department, approved an independent review with the aim of providing recommendations to resolve the acrimony.
The PCPA has interviewed officers and members of the police administration, Myers said. “It seems like they’re doing a really good job, thorough job,” he noted.
The review began in December and is expected to take 10 weeks.
Chase not on the case
There is no time frame for reactivating Chase, the K9 dog, the mayor said. The dog was not on duty because of public safety concern.
“He bit three people,” the mayor said.
“It’s not the training,” he explained of what the problem with the dog is.
He then added: “They’re doing an investigation of the officers involved.”
Myers expressed surprise at the mayor’s comments.
“They have not given the K9 officer a reason,” Myers said.
The incident involving the officer getting bit happened in late December, and the K9 officer and Chase worked until the beginning of this month, Myers said. Last week, the mayor ordered that the dog be kept home, according to Myers.
The dog’s former trainer, Paul Price, owner of North East Police K-9 Academy LLC of Wilkes-Barre Township, also was surprised no one from the mayor’s office or police administration contacted him about taking Chase off the street. The Belgian Malinois has been with the department about a year-and-a-half.
“I would love to have spoken to the officers. I was their trainer. I thought I would have been asked, but I was not,” Price said.
“I had no issues with dog,” he noted. A dog is always being trained, Price said, but K9 officer Joseph Homza has not been able to make training sessions because of manpower issues.
Price said he notified the city by email about a week-and-a-half ago that he resigned as trainer for K9 dogs.
“I can’t train people that aren’t there,” Price said. “It’s better off that they find somebody else.”
Chase, one of two dogs on the Wilkes-Barre Police Department K9 unit, was taken off the street after biting three people, including a police officer, Mayor Tony George said.