, Gloucester, MA

July 8, 2013

Editorial: Independent probe needed in Fiesta K9 incident

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — 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.

It is that decision by Leanos that Campanello defends in his report — and with good reason. For all the controversy generated by the videos showing the two chaotic arrests outside, there is nothing other than police reports that document what was going on inside. And the actions of at least one man — who gave the sheriff’s officers the finger, then, according to Campanello’s and their reports, began taunting the officers and even the dogs while further inciting others in the crowd — could have very quickly escalated into a far more serious threat to public safety.

There are, however, a few pieces missing from this preliminary investigation and report.

For one thing, nothing suggests that anyone involved with this or anticipated more thorough internal After Action report has interviewed or sought additional information from people inside the St. Peter’s Club, or from club management. They certainly deserve to have their say regarding concerns that have now been expressed by so many residents and Fiesta visitors — including a Townsend woman who filed a formal complaint just minutes after the incident occurred.

Also, while the video is flawed — it’s impossible to hear what the arrest subjects were saying, which contributed to officers’ apparent sense of urgency — there are discrepancies between the footage and the reports of the arresting sheriff’s officers. Given the questions being raised by the community, those differences need to be addressed.

Mayor Kirk has reached out previously to New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) to carry out an independent investigation into the Gloucester Fire Department’s handling of the fatal December 2007 Lorraine Apartment and then the 2011 fire that heavily damaged a building on Pleasant Street. In each of those cases, the MRI reports found a number of issues and problems that carried far more weight than had they been cited in an internal report.

The Fiesta K9 case needs that same kind of independent probe and report regarding both city policing policies and the sheriff’s departments actions — and it’s the kind of fresh look at this case that Gloucester and its residents deserve.