City officials in Baltimore are arguing city police officers aren’t city employees in an attempt to thwart legal action taken by a woman whose dogs throat was slit by a City officer last summer.
Police were responding to a call in June that a dog had bitten a woman. The dog, a 7-year-old Chinese shar-pei breed named Nala, had went missing from her home earlier that morning. Once on scene, officers restrained Nala using a customary long-pole noose around her neck, officials said.
Sandy Fleischer, the woman bitten by the dog had been attempting to retrieve the animal for its owner after seeing “missing” posts on a community facebook page.
“The dog was more scared of not knowing where it was and being thirsty and disoriented. The dog bit me out of fear because I tried to touch it, which was my fault,” Fleischer said. She sustained a small, inconsequential puncture wound to her hand, officials said.
Fleischer, who did not see the actual killing of the animal, did say that Nala was NOT being aggressive. “You could hear the dog screaming and crying in pain,” Fleischer said. “I did see one officer that had been extremely aggressive that did have his knee into her chest that was tightening the noose. It seemed (they were doing it) relentlessly and unnecessarily.”
Shortly afterward, Officer Jeffrey Bolger cut Nala’s throat with a knife, even though she was contained, police spokesman Eric Kowalczy said at the time.
“It was a complete violation of protocol,” Kowalczy said. “It’s not often police speak out against one of their own, but we are all truly appalled.”
Just before they got to the scene, Bolger was overheard saying, “I’m going to gut this f***ing thing,” according to charging documents.
Officer Bolger was charged with felony animal cruelty and was arrested. Another officer, Thomas Schmidt, was also charged with animal cruelty for allegedly holding the dog down while Bolger killed it. All charges against him however, were dropped by city prosecutors earlier this month.
In December, Gossard, filed a claim for damages against the city, naming the officers involved in the incident as well as the police commissioner.
Her lawyer, Tony Depastina, expected the city to put up a fioght, but he didn’t expect an argument asserting that police officers aren’t city employees.
In a letter, a city lawyer writes: “The conduct alleged does not involve an employee of the mayor and City Council. For that reason, we do not believe the city has and legal responsibility.”
“I don’t know how else you can put that. ‘Baltimore City police officers are not city employees,'” Depastina said. “My understanding is the commissioner reports to the mayor and City Council of Baltimore. They do regular briefings with the mayor and City Council of Baltimore. But the way I read this letter is they are not employees of the mayor and City Council of Baltimore. Who are they employees of? Who is their boss? At the end of the day, where does the buck stop?”
Depastina checked with the state and got a response from the Office of the State Treasurer, saying, “The Baltimore City Police Department is specifically defined as a local government.”
On a regular basis, the city’s Board of Estimates approves settlements to lawsuits against the city Police Department with no argument its officers are not city employees. Also, the paychecks police officers get read “the mayor and City Council” as the employer.
Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson said the letter the city sent claiming officers aren’t city employees is just “lawyerspeak.”
Bolgers criminal trial is set for March.