, Gloucester, MA

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July 8, 2013

Editorial: Independent probe needed in Fiesta K9 incident

It’s not surprising that a preliminary report from Police Chief Leonard Campanello to Mayor Carolyn Kirk on the use of law enforcement K9 dogs while clearing the St. Peter’s Club essentially found the deployments of the dogs and their handlers was warranted and “appropriate” that now infamous Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

That’s partly because the report, submitted by Campanello to Kirk last week and released by the mayor’s office on Friday, was only meant as a preliminary finding. It’s also because the report notes that the actual use and handling of the dogs — captured on videos that have been posted and continue to understandably draw hits online — was carried out by officers with the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.

To that end, Campanello was right in reaching out to Sheriff Frank Cousins and asking his department review its reports of the policing action.

But while Campanello is promising a more thorough After-Action report by the end of August, and while we hope the sheriff’s department does the same, Mayor Kirk and/or the City Council would also do well to seek an independent after-action report from an outside agency to look into the entire incident, which has cast a significant cloud over an otherwise very well-run and well-secured Fiesta that included the family-oriented focus its organizers were hoping they could provide.

While the chief’s initial and internal report to the mayor is preliminary, it makes a number of interesting points — most notably that the initial response was triggered by a report of a disturbance inside the St. Peter’s Club. And it was police efforts to arrest a man allegedly at the center of that dispute that led to more problems minutes later.

According to the report, that man allegedly helped to incite others in the crowd against police inside the club. And it was that increasingly unstable environment that led Gloucester Police Sgt. William Leanos — who was incident commander, and, as a veteran local police officer, is very familiar with Fiesta details of the past — to call for the K9 handlers to form a perimeter with their dogs while police sought to clear the club and disperse the crowd in Rogers Street.

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