Fired Columbia Police officer seeks to buy police dog

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 8:30 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Police Chief Ken Burton and City Manager Mike Matthes will meet Wednesday morning to talk about Fano, a police dog, and the possibility of selling him to his former handler, Rob Sanders.

Sanders was fired from the Columbia Police Department in September after an internal affairs investigation into his use of force against a man in a holding cell. Sanders had worked with Fano for more than a year.

Now, Sanders wants to buy the dog, and his wife, Amy Sanders, went to Monday night's City Council meeting to plead with council members for the sale.

She told the council that Burton first told her husband he could buy the dog for $10,800 but that someone else "in the chain of command" denied Burton made the statement.

She expressed frustration about the situation and her husband's termination.

"By selling Fano to us, we would be able to more quickly heal and move on from an event that I can only hope you will all educate yourself on thoroughly," she said, alluding to her husband's firing. 

A friend of the family, Janna Tarbox, also spoke to the council and outlined a proposition for buying Fano, check in hand. She was part of a group that came together on a Facebook page for canine Fano and raised the $10,800. But she said that instead of putting all the money toward the dog, the total would be divided: $2,000 for the dog, $4,400 for the Central Missouri Humane Society and $4,400 for Columbia Second Chance.

"This offer stands tonight," she said.

After discussion, Mayor Bob McDavid said: "We are not in a position to release the dog tonight."

Instead, the council decided to report back at its next meeting.

But on Tuesday, Burton said the statement about him saying yes to the sale was "completely untrue." He said that when Sanders asked about buying the dog when he was fired, Burton told him he "would look into it."

"Nobody ever said yes — at least, I didn't," Burton said.

Allowing the Sanders to buy the animal could be a liability to the city, he said in an interview Tuesday. If the dog were to hurt someone, that person could turn around and blame the city for selling a police dog to a civilian, Burton said. He also said buying and training a new dog would be expensive.

The city's risk management department had made an estimate of how much it would cost to replace the dog, and that's where the $10,800 figure came from.

At the council meeting, Councilman Jason Thornhill questioned whether the situation would be the same if the former officer were retired, not fired. But Burton said Tuesday that it's not about Sanders' situation, it's about the age and training of the dog. At 2 1/2 years old, Fano is in the prime of his career, Burton said.

Replacing the dog would cost at least $4,000 — maybe $6,000, Burton said. Add to that the cost of training the dog with a new handler, and the total cost comes to about $13,000, he said. Right now, it looks like the police department will find a new handler for Fano from within. Until the right match for Fano is found, the dog is in Cape Girardeau with the trainer the department uses.

Sanders' termination isn't the source of Burton's reluctance to sell the dog, he said. Nor are his personal feelings about Sanders' termination. "I don't have a preference one way or the other — I'm just trying to look out for the interest of the city," he said.

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arthur nunn October 4, 2011 | 10:41 p.m.

Reward him with a puppy!

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock October 5, 2011 | 3:25 a.m.

Agreed the dog is a tool for the police. It isn't supposed to be a companion animal.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett October 5, 2011 | 8:09 a.m.

@"Agreed the dog is a tool for the police. It isn't supposed to be a companion animal."

I agree with you completely, Allan - and here is why: this dog is not just a family pet, but the issue is what this dog is trained to do. Therefore, the dog belongs to CPD and the service to the community, not to the police officer who managed to get himself fired. Illogical and unreasonable to allow the dog to be owned by this let-go individual. Maybe the fired officer's wife and his "supporters" (so into caring and drama) should encourage him to receive "grief" counseling, instead? Works for everybody else.


(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall October 5, 2011 | 8:48 a.m.

I am sure the former officer is tremendously bonded to this dog and would love to have him. However, if the dog is allowed to go to the former officer, that is the loss of a potentially life-saving animal to the force. Remember that these Police K9s are *also* police officers and are given full police protection (and full police honors when lost in the line of duty).

For me it's not really the cost in dollars to replace Fano. It's the loss of training that would have to be started anew with a new dog. And not all dogs make it; they are, after all, dogs; there is no guarantee.

If there is a problem with the dismissal of Mr. Sanders, that should be addressed internally. But I think Burton is correct. It's one thing to let an elderly Police K9 who has served his time to retire to his handler. That should absolutely happen. But a young dog who is just reaching his peak and can give many years of service to our local police force should not be given, or sold. It is no doubt that Fano will miss Sanders. However, I know from experience that new strong bonds can be forged with a new partner.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm October 5, 2011 | 11:50 a.m.

Why are we discussing dogs? Sanders committed assault, why has he not been arrested and charged yet? If I get frustrated at my job and hit a customer the police are not going to let me off because I got fired; I would get arrested and charged too. Are police officers above the law in Columbia MO? Burton certainly handled this better than these things have been in the past; a few chiefs ago this idiot would have kept his job and probably received a promotion. However, it has not been taken all the way. Sanders needs to face a judge and a jury of his peers like any other citizen would (don't forget that cops are regular citizens). Hopefully the other thugs at CPD are starting to get the message that their criminal acts will not go unpunished any longer. To the good cops of CPD; if you fail to step up and call out the bad cops and make them answer to the law then you are as bad of a cop as they are.

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis October 5, 2011 | 12:22 p.m.

I agree with all of you! If this man wants a dog why can't he adopt one from the Central Missouri Humane Society or second chance. He would then be giving a home to a dog in need and the police dog would still be on the force.

(Report Comment)

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