Ocean City —
Council on May 10 approved a resolution which defends and indemnifies four Ocean City police officers involved in litigation with a citizen suing the city for an alleged attack by the city’s police dog.
In a case filed by Robert Petnick in Dec. 16, 2011, Petnick claims officers apprehended him on an outstanding warrant and held him at gunpoint. While held, Petnick alleges the officers released K-9 police dog Deuce, a German Sheppard. In the suit, Petnick said the dog bit him on the hands. Petnick said he suffered physical and emotional injuries from the incident. Wildwood lawyer Aaron Penrod, who is representing Petnick, filed the suit.
Petnick brought a suit against Sgt. Jon Campo, Officer Anthony Fearnhead, Officer Robert Koob and Officer John Vogt to Superior Court, which was moved to Federal District Court.
City solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said the resolution indemnifies the officers and holds them from punitive damages.
“The attorney who is handling the suit on behalf of the city has reviewed the pretrial discovery and has recommended this is an appropriate action in this case,” McCrosson said, adding the police union’s contract requires the city to provide a defense and indemnification of officers if they are sued for actions undertaken during the course of duty.
Councilman Roy Wagner said when council discussed the matter in closed session in April, he called it a “serious matter.”
“I’m concerned that we don’t have enough factual information to make an informed judgment,” Wagner said.
Councilman Keith Hartzell said the resolution doesn’t mean council is “taking a side.”
“We don’t know the facts of the case. We’re simply doing what were supposed to do. We’re not involved in guilt or innocence,” Hartzell said.
Resident Steven Fenichel questioned the resolution, and mentioned two other incidents where the police dog was involved.
In an incident from 2010, Ocean City Police Officer John Vogt and Deuce responded to a disorderly group in front of a residence on Bay Avenue.
Nicholas Pyle, 24, and his 8-year old female Rottweiler named Noodles were across the street observing the group.
As Vogt and Deuce approached the group, Noodles, who was not on a leash, advanced towards them.
Vogt fired two rounds from his duty weapon, a .40-caliber Glock, striking the Rottweiler both times.
In another case, police subdued resident Jeffrey Moyer. Fenichel said Deuce attacked and left severe injuries to Moyer’s penis. Moyer filed a lawsuit on Dec. 20, 2010 against the City of Ocean City, Vogt and Officer John Mazzuca.
“We have a contract that we have to protect our police officers, but I say you have a responsibility to protect your community,” Fenichel said. “If these police officers are innocent, I want every resource to clear the air if they were maligned...If these people were totally neutralized and this dog was triggered to attack them, we have to prevent this by an administrative review with these officers on immediate leave.”
Wagner’s motion to table the resolution until council could gather more information on the case was denied.
Council approved the resolution 4-2 with Wagner and Councilman John Kemenosh voting against. Councilman Scott Ping was not present to vote.