City council hears criticism over cops’ fatal dog shootings; Accepts the purchase of fire trucks

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Around 60 people turned out for the usually sparsely attended Lebanon city council meeting on Monday evening to show their displeasure at the July 6 murder of Gunner, the 15-month-old, 50-pound escaped dog shot dead by police out of town after unsuccessful attempts to restrain him with a pole.

Gunner’s death was captured on surveillance video and sparked widespread outrage and a protest outside City Hall earlier this month. Police say Gunner was a “danger and a threat”, but refuse to release body camera video of the three officers involved.

Annville veterinarian Diane Ford spoke at the July 25 meeting on behalf of Gunner supporters. Saying she was ‘appalled’ by Gunner’s death, Ford told the council that ‘almost daily my staff and I come across aggressive animals, but we all know how to use a catch perch properly and are all trained in handling animals. There’s no reason your police force shouldn’t be so educated.

Ford said she and Davis Dog Farm of Grantville, from where Gunner was adopted, “offer to help purchase the proper equipment for the department as well as arrange proper training for your officers.”

“When faced with an aggressive dog,” Ford said, “we need training in dog handling, common sense and compassion, three things that officers lacked on the day Gunner died. However, it is my professional opinion that Gunner was not aggressive.

Ford called for criminal charges to be brought against the officers and suggested that “any human police officer with jurisdiction in Lebanon County…initiate an investigation.” Pennsylvania Law allows “an agent of a society or association for the prevention of cruelty to animals” to initiate criminal proceedings in the same way as municipal police officers.

Ford ended his remarks by calling “absurd” the city’s claim that never-before-seen police body camera video shows a different version of Gunner’s final moments.

“A view from one angle is the same from all angles,” she said.

Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello responded by pointing out that police in the city had responded to 1,228 dog calls since 2019, 300 of which involved a “direct encounter” with a dog. Of those incidents, she said, only two involved the use of force.

“Officers involved in the incident have been trained in the proper use of a catch pole,” the mayor said. “There was no further involvement in this situation,” she added, without giving further details.

“We believe our officers handled it correctly, given the circumstances,” Capello said. “A wagging tail is not necessarily a sign of a friendly dog.”

Capello said the city received a letter from an attorney representing Jacklyn and Jamie Shughart, Gunner’s owners, which made certain “demands.” While acknowledging that no legal action has been taken, Capello said the city views the case as an “ongoing litigation” and will not release police body camera footage.

Neither the mayor nor any member of council has indicated whether the city will accept Ford’s offer of training and equipment.

Plans underway to replace old fire engines

The city council took the first steps last night to replace two older fire trucks when it agreed to use US bailout funds to pay half the cost of the new vehicles.

The city’s firefighting fleet consists of fire trucks purchased in 1996, 2001, 2002, 2015, and 2016, and two ladder trucks purchased in 1999 and 2004.

Fire Marshal Duane Trautman noted that the Rescue Hose Company ladder truck and Union Hose Company pump truck, purchased in 1999 and 1996 respectively, are nearing the end of their useful life and will be replaced.

Capello said the city’s 50% share is estimated at $340,000 for the pump truck and $650,000 for the ladder truck. Firefighters will solicit bids for vehicles.

The new trucks are expected to arrive in 2024.

The city will receive more than $600,000 in CDBG money

Council also approved a plan for spending the Community Development Block Grant money this year.

In a public hearing at last Thursday’s pre-council planning meeting, Economic Development Coordinator Janelle Mendoff said the city expects to receive $665,566 in CDBG cash in 2022 and generate $20,000. additional $ of program revenue. CDBG grants come from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city plans to spend the money, primarily in low-income areas, as follows:

  • Policing and crime prevention – $96,000
  • Street improvements – $139,566
  • Housing rehabilitation and home purchase assistance – $80,000
  • Code enforcement – ​​$100,000
  • General Administration – $130,000
  • Water Main Improvements – $140,000

Other Business Before City Council

  • The council confirmed the mayor’s reappointment of Ed Lynch Jr. and Becky Dreibelbis for another five-year term on the Zoning Hearing Board, effective July 15. Dreibelbis has been in office since 2002, Lynch since 2006.
  • Through June 30, with the fiscal year 50% complete, the mayor reported that city revenues were at 68% of budget forecasts and expenses at 37%.
  • Council approved, on first reading, an ordinance authorizing the public auction of a city-owned building at 164 N. Ninth St. PennDOT demanded the city purchase the property more than 10 years ago to house a family displaced by the construction of the 9th Street Bridge over the Norfolk Southern Railways. The Council will have to approve the measure again next month to make it final.
  • The council approved, on first reading, an amendment to a city ordinance that will change Trautman’s official title from “fire marshal” to “fire chief.” The latter title is far more common throughout the county and state, and “commissioner” can be confusing, according to Capello.

Upcoming city council meetings

City Council’s next pre-council planning meeting will be Thursday, August 18 at 4:45 p.m. The next regular monthly council meeting will be Monday, August 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Both meetings are open to the public and will be held in the Multipurpose Hall of City Hall, 735 Cumberland Street, First Floor, Lebanon.

Meetings are also streamed live on YouTube here.


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