Second W-B Officer Joins Suit Against City Over K-9

January 3, 2019
Second W-B Officer Joins Suit Against City Over K-9

WILKES-BARRE — A second Wilkes-Barre police officer has joined a federal lawsuit against the city alleging mishandling of a K-9 responsible for biting multiple people.

Officer Shane Smith of Plymouth has been added to the complaint, which alleges K-9 Chase and his handler, Officer Joseph Homza, were “unreasonably dangerous.”

According to the complaint, Smith was holding a perimeter during the search for a suspect in the area of 60 N. Hancock St. on Sept. 4 when Homza and Chase walked past. Chase bit Smith on the leg and began dragging him on the ground, according to the complaint.

The suit alleges Homza gave “multiple unsuccessful verbal commands” before grabbing Chase by the collar and forcibly pulling him off Smith.

The lawsuit, filed by the Philadelphia law firm Mincey & Fitzpatrick, targets Homza, the City of Wilkes-Barre and former police Chief Marcella Lendacky.

In addition to adding Smith as a plaintiff, an amended complaint filed Monday also added police Chief Joseph Coffay as a defendant, alleging Coffay “acted with a degree of culpability that shocks the conscience” in failing to take preventive measures to protect Smith from the “danger presented by Defendant Homza.”

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George said he thinks the city is protected against Smith’s allegations “because we had a trainer saying the dog was OK.”

He declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.

The lawsuit was initially filed in October by Berwick resident Joshua Fought, 45, who Chase bit during an arrest on Public Square in July 2017. Police charged Fought with resisting arrest, but a jury found him not guilty of the offense at trial in June.

Fought’s lawsuit alleges that Homza and Chase used excessive force during the arrest and that the city, George and Lendacky failed to properly train and supervise their police officers.

In October, Officer Anthony Falcone joined the suit as a plaintiff, alleging Homza lacked the proper training to handle Chase and that he placed citizens at an “unreasonable risk of harm” by mishandling the dog.

Chase bit Falcone while police were searching for a suspect in the area of 27 Kidder St. on Dec. 17.

STEVE MOCARSKY, staff writer, contributed to this report.

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