LEBANON, Pa.– At least 50 community members organized a city council sit-in Monday night to protest the police shooting of a pet dog earlier this month.
The Lebanon City Council met Monday to cover a full agenda and to hear a public remark from Dr. Dianne Ford, a Pennsylvania Licensed Veterinarian and owner of the Vetting Zoo Animal Hospital.
Dr. Ford spoke before the Council in response to the police shooting of a dog named Gunner, who was loosed from his owner’s property in early July and reported found in another city resident’s back yard.
According to the statement released by the police after the incident, on July 6th, the Lebanon City Police were called and notified of a loose dog that had entered a foreign yard not owned by the dog’s caretakers.
According to the statement, the officers on the field attempted to apprehend the dog, later identified as Gunner, through the utilization of “catch poles” after they could find no other means to secure him.
The statement said that in trying to secure Gunner, the officers were initially unsuccessful and decided to tase the dog to incapacitate him so they could adequately restrain him.
According to the statement, the officers tried to restrain Gunner with the catch poles to tire him; however, they said that Gunner became “aggressive biting the catch pole.” The statement goes on to say that the officers then lost control of the pole and shot Gunner once to subdue him to prevent him from attacking them.
However, video evidence released by the homeowner after the incident suggests that Gunner was not aggressive and that the officers’ actions were possibly preemptive and unnecessary.
In the weeks following and leading up to the city council meeting, several demonstrations were organized to protest the “wrongful” death of Gunner.
In the meeting with Dr. Ford, approximately 50 community members gathered to protest the incident further, with some individuals holding signs which read “Justice for Gunner.”
Dr. Ford began her remarks by saying, “I am appalled at the July 6th event surrounding the death of Gunner. On Almost a daily basis, my staff and I are faced with aggressive animals, but we all know how to correctly use a catch pole and are all educated on animal handling. There is no reason why your force cannot be just as educated.”
Dr. Ford said that while she and many of the protesters support the police, they do not support the “cowardly” actions that happened on July 6th. She said they are offering to purchase the proper equipment and pay for the necessary police training to ensure that the events which took place never happen again.
Dr. Ford said that the City has not responded to or acknowledged this offer in any form. She said when handling an agitated dog, the acting responders need proper education on animal handling, common sense, and compassion, “three things the officers lacked on that day of Gunner’s death.”
Dr. Ford said that Gunner did not exhibit aggressive behavior in her professional opinion. She said that if he posed a legitimate threat, Gunner would have lunged at the officers in an attempt to bite them, which he never did.
Dr. Ford said, “Seconds before being shot in the head, Gunner laid down and submitted.” Instead, she said, “They chose to use deadly force.”
Dr. Ford called upon Mayor Sherry Capello and Police Chief Todd Breiner to hold the officers involved accountable, “set aside the brotherhood,” and file a criminal complaint/investigation against them for their actions.
In closing, Dr. Ford Said, “We demand justice, justice for Gunner.”
Mayor Capello thanked Dr. Ford for speaking before the Council. She said that she would like to take the time to give information from the perspective of the City; however, due to “pending litigation,” she would not be willing to take questions afterward.
Mayor Capello said, “Again, we are sorry for the loss of their pet.” She said that the Lebanon Police Department had handled many complaints about loose pets in the past without incident. She then began reciting statistics from previous years in which the City had many animal-related incidents without any use of force.
Mayor Capello said that the officers involved in the incident were trained to use the catch pole correctly; still, there were further complications to the situation. She said that while the City wishes the situation could have been handled differently, the City believes that the Lebanon Officers acted appropriately given the circumstances.
Mayor Capello said, “A tail that is wagging is not necessarily a sign of a friendly dog.” She also noted that the City would gladly accept any help that residents or organizations in the City offer.
In closing Mayor Capello said that the City would like to remind people to “Have their dogs collared, licensed, and secured so that our officers’ job is easier and owner contact is readily available.”
Council Chairperson Joe Morales followed Mayor Capello’s statement by reading the Council’s official policy on public remarks. Morales said that public comments by city residents or taxpayers may occur without prior notice to the Council but are limited to one minute each.
In addition, Morales said that any non-City residents or taxpayers who wish to comment to the Council must have notified the Council at least one week before the meeting.
After Morales read the Council’s policy on making remarks, no attendee spoke directly about the shooting of Gunner; however, two city residents commented before the Council concerning other things.
Former Councilmember Wayne Carey commented on an incident he recently had with the police where he appreciated how they handled a situation calmly and empathetically. He thanked the Lebanon City Police Department for their excellent work and invited community members to interact with the police during the National Night Out event at the Salvation Army on August 2nd.
Former Councilmember Cornell Wilson asked if the Council had ever enforced strict rules regarding public remarks. He said that he has witnessed many residents speak for longer than a minute in the past, and the Council did not restrict them for time.
Morales responded by saying that the enforcement of the policy is at the discretion of the Council Chairperson, and he had chosen to enforce them for the meeting.
Only one City Council member spoke after all other comments were made. Council Member Chris Miller thanked everyone for their attendance and said that while a situation like the one which occurred is one that no one wants to have happen, he commemorated the fact that so many people were willing to come together and unite behind a communal cause.
Miller said he was glad to see people use an unfortunate situation like this to come together as a community.
After he spoke, several attendees voiced their appreciation of his words as the crowd murmured on.
Please click here for the video link to the full July 2022 Lebanon City Council meeting.
The next Pre-City Council meeting will be on August 18th at 4:45 PM, and the City Council meeting will be held on August 22nd at 6:30 PM in the Frank Dixon Council Chamber at 735 Cumberland St.