COLUMBIA — Former Columbia police officer Rob Sanders won't be allowed to buy Fano, the dog he patrolled with. But after the council voted on the matter, the former officer's wife, Amy Sanders, might have convinced the council to reconsider its decision.
After hearing her speak, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said it would be an ongoing issue.
City Manager Mike Matthes recommended against selling the dog, and Mayor Bob McDavid moved to support that recommendation. Only one council member — Helen Anthony of the Fifth Ward — was opposed.
Matthes said his recommendation came down to three points:
- Fano is still young and isn't done working yet.
- As a police dog, Fano is aggressive. "I believe Fano is capable of harm," Matthes said.
Sanders' termination from Columbia Police Department is still under discussion as a personnel issue. "I can't separate the ongoing personnel action from this request," Matthes said.
Sanders was fired in September after an internal affairs investigation into his use of force against a prisoner in a holding cell.
Anthony wanted to "readdress the issue" after all personnel matters within the police department had been settled.
Amy Sanders, his wife, asked for "more contact and more thought about it, and a redirection on (the) ruling."
She presented a report to the council, based on facts she had gotten from people who train police dogs. She said the handlers she spoke with said aggression wasn't something trainers look for, and she held to the argument that Fano was not aggressive.
Police Chief Ken Burton had said previously that since Fano has been trained to be aggressive, the dog could be a liability to the city. Based on this, Matthes made his initial recommendation against selling the dog in a memo Thursday to the City Council.
At the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Amy Sanders pleaded with the council to let her and her husband buy the dog. Janna Tarbox, a friend of the family, also spoke to the council that night on behalf of "Canine Fano" supporters who had come together on Facebook.
That liability was Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl's main concern, but he thought he had a solution that would allow the Sanderses to have the dog but also protect the city. He proposed a $1 million liability policy, which the Sanderses would pay for in yearly increments of $1,500, or maybe less. That way, if the dog were to hurt someone, the city would not be financially responsible, he said.
Kespohl also suggested having the dog neutered. "I think it would make the dog a little less aggressive," he said.
The council backed the city manager. First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt referred back to what Amy Sanders had said at the Oct. 3 meeting.
"She was reaching me when she was talking about the dog," he said. Schmidt said he wasn't OK when she started "to claim her husband's innocence, to bash the city, to bash the police department."
"We're asked to be compassionate about the dog," he said. "Well, where was the compassion in the video?" He was referring to a video of Sanders in the incident leading up to his firing.
He also connected Sanders' firing with the overall changes happening in the police department, citing Burton's stance that "we are not going to tolerate this behavior in the police department," Schmidt said.
He said he's seen too many people run when they see a policeman, and he hopes for further acknowledgement that there is a problem.
"There's a reason why there's guys like Matt Akins running around with cameras," he said.