Morgan Hill’s K-9 German Shepherd police dog, Pax, will soon be retired from service and become a household pet, more than a year after his handler was accused of misconduct and subsequently terminated from his job as a local officer.
Morgan Hill police Chief David Swing said the police department will continue its K-9 program with a new dog trained to sniff out contraband and corner alleged crooks. Swing said his goal is to have a new dog, and a trained handler – preferably a sworn officer within MHPD’s existing ranks – patrolling the streets in about a year.
The nonprofit Morgan Hill Community Law Enforcement Foundation, which purchased Pax in 2008 and paid for his initial training – $10,000 – from private fundraising, vows to help the city in its effort to acquire a new K-9 animal, according to CLEF director David Cohen.
The City Council will consider a proposal Wednesday to sell Pax for $2,000 to a couple – Eric and Lisa Oster – who will keep the dog as a pet. City staff said the couple do not live in Morgan Hill, but did not say where they live.
Considering that Pax is no longer capable of police service without a viable matching officer available in Morgan Hill or other nearby agencies to handle the dog, Cohen said $2,000 is a “fair price” for Pax.
“We are aware of (Pax’s pending sale), we support the city, and we look forward to welcoming a new dog,” Cohen said, adding that CLEF has already raised the money for a new four-legged police friend.
The police department will be responsible for the selection of a new dog and securing his training, while CLEF expects to be involved only by making a monetary donation to the city to cover expenses associated with the purchase.
The department was able to match Pax with the Osters through referrals from other city staff. The couple plan to keep Pax as a pet only, and not as a guard dog or service dog, Swing said.
That was an important factor in finding Pax a new home, Swing said. After determining how difficult it was to re-assign Pax in recent months, professional trainers and a third-party K-9 vendor consulted by the city determined that the 5-year-old German Shepherd is “no longer suitable for service as a police canine,” primarily due to his age and the city’s inability to find a handler to match up ideally with Pax, Swing said.
“It is not only important that Pax go to the right family, from the city’s liability perspective, but more importantly that Pax go to the right environment (where) he will be safe and cared for,” Swing said. “He won’t try to be used for his training. Pax is going to be a pet, and that’s the best environment for him.”
The department attempted to match Pax with another local officer, and sent out a notice to police agencies throughout the state trying to get him back on the streets, but no suitable match could be found, Swing said. Other agencies were not interested in acquiring Pax as a police dog.
In an “ideal” situation with a K-9 dog, a handler should be identified and assigned to the unit first, and then an appropriately matching dog should be found - “not the other way around,” Swing said.
Swing added it would be “difficult” to solicit bids or post a for-sale advertisement to the general public for a police dog such as Pax, due to his special training and the need to ensure his new owner won’t misuse or mistreat him.
Pax’s former handler, Morgan Hill officer David Ray, was terminated from employment by the city following an internal investigation that found he, and possibly other officers, posted “intimate” personal photos from her smartphone to her Facebook account, without her permission, according to a lawsuit filed by Ray against the city in March.
Ray’s lawsuit claims that the city violated state laws and its own policies by firing him after the July 16, 2011 incident.
In that incident, Ray arrested two Gilroy women - Casey Serrano, 36, and Regina Partida, 37 - on suspicion of public drunkenness. The women were never charged for the crime, but after their release they discovered that Serrano’s smartphone had been accessed while she was in custody, and an officer or officers had posted a personal photograph from the device to her Facebook account, according to a complaint for damages filed by Serrano against the city in January.
Higher-ranking officers at MHPD “immediately” recognized possible officer misconduct and initiated an internal investigation, Swing said earlier this year. That investigation found at least one officer had acted inappropriately and was disciplined.
Due to state laws protecting the personnel files of public safety officers, city staff cannot disclose the names of the officer or officers who were investigated in response to the incident, or what kind of disciplinary action was taken. Ray’s complaint filed in the Santa Clara County Superior Court, however, indicates he was terminated as a result of the July 2011 incident, though he did not confess to any misconduct in the filing.
At some point after the Facebook incident, officer Mindy Zen was demoted. She was listed as the supervisor on the police report of the Serrano’s arrest, and was listed as a “corporal” in a document from early 2011 listing city employees’ compensation information. In April, she was listed as an “officer,” a position that is paid less, on the city’s website. She is currently listed as a “domestic violence detective” on the city’s website.
A criminal investigation of the officer or officers involved in the July 2011 incident found that no crimes had occurred, Swing said earlier this year.
In June, the City Council agreed to settle with Serrano out of court for $75,000. Serrano had threatened to sue the city for damages, but she agreed not to pursue litigation in exchange for the settlement.
On Monday, Swing said with the retirement and sale of Pax, and the coming acquisition of a new K-9 unit, “It’s all about going forward and not looking back.”
Following the 2011 Facebook incident, Pax remained in Ray’s care until January 2012. Since then, Pax has been boarded with Witmer/Tyson Kennels, who has provided training for Pax since the city has owned him.
Luckily, according to Swing, the city has benefited from K-9 services from surrounding law enforcement agencies – including the Gilroy Police Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office – through mutual aid agreements when a police dog has been needed in Morgan Hill in the last year or so.
In one incident earlier this summer, the sheriff’s K-9 was able to sniff out and apprehend parolee Jason Day, 24 of Morgan Hill, off East Dunne Avenue. Day ran from police when they contacted him in response to an alleged disturbance. Police and the sheriff’s K-9 found him hiding behind some vegetation in a private yard, and after he refused to surrender the dog was sent to him and bit him on the arm, police said.
The City Council will consider the sale of Pax to the Osters at its regular meeting Wednesday at City Hall council chambers, 17555 Peak Ave.