By Marjorie Nesin
---- — The mayor has requested that the city’s chief of police write a formal report on the city’s police dog use, after the actions of Essex Sheriff’s Deputy K9 units outside the St. Peter’s Club late Saturday night into early morning Sunday sparked heated debate about the use of police dogs in the city for crowd control.
In an emailed memorandum sent to a group including city councilors and the city’s legal counsel Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Police Chief Leonard Campanello was “wrapping up” a preliminary evaluation.
“Be assured that the chief and city administration were in close contact throughout Fiesta,” Kirk said. “I received daily briefings, and we first spoke about Sat. p.m./Sunday a.m. public safety concerns on Sunday morning. He initiated his evaluation immediately, and is preparing a written report in response to my formal request.”
Posted videos and first-person accounts have led residents to question why police brought dogs out at Fiesta this year, while others said the dogs acted as a valuable and useful tool.
According to several sources, the incident occurred as police tried to clear the St. Peter’s Club in the early-morning hours on Sunday, and patrons exiting the club and others congregating in Rogers Street were confronted with police and Sheriff’s Department personnel with muzzled but barking and what many said were intimidating dogs.
A Townsend woman filed a formal complaint against the K9 Unit about 1:13 a.m. Sunday, just minutes after the incident in question. Police had filed a use of force report by 2 a.m. regarding her complaint. Both reports remained unavailable Tuesday, due to the ongoing investigation.
Gloucester had bolstered its force with outside support from the Essex Sheriff’s Department and the Massachusetts Police, after Police Chief Campanello vowed a stepped up vigilance for his first Fiesta as chief. Campanello declined to comment Tuesday, but wrote in a press release distributed Monday that police were evaluating their safety plan’s implementation of the dogs.
“I can tell you that I am evaluating that response with the input I have heard from my officers, establishment owners, and citizens I have heard from,” he said.
A spokeswoman from the Essex County Sheriffs Department did not return phone calls asking for comment Tuesday.
A video captured and displayed on social media outlets and posted almost 200 times on the Facebook social site by Tuesday night, portrays a one 25-second scene outside the St. Peter’s Club early Sunday morning. The video features an Essex County Sheriffs K9 officer taking down a man after the man waves an obscene gesture in the officer’s face. The yellow-shirted man waves a select finger in an officer’s face while walking by police, each holding a K9 leash.
The officer then grabs the man’s shirt collar from behind, holding the barking dog’s leash in one hand and the man’s shirt collar in the other. He pulls the man towards him and the man falls to the ground, where two officers clad in street clothes handcuff him, their knees momentarily on his back.
One of three muzzled and leashed K9s lunged at the man, but failed to reach him. As the officer holding its leash pulled the man from among the crowd, police were attempting to disperse from the west end of Rogers Street, across from the Fiesta grounds.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.