ABINGTON, Mass. — An Abington police officer and police union president claims the town’s police chief retaliated against him by ending the department’s K-9 program last fall — days after the officer filed a hostile work environment complaint.
The officer, John Sayers, provided 25 Investigates with a copy of a Sept. 21 complaint he filed with the Town of Abington.
“The town has failed to address my previous complaints regarding a hostile work environment, retaliation, and disparate treatment, which has resulted in continuing this behavior,” Sayers wrote in his complaint.
Four days later, on Sept. 25, Sayers said Abington Police Chief David Del Papa called him into a meeting to hand him a letter that said his assignment as a K-9 officer “has ceased, effective immediately.”
Sayers provided a copy of that letter to Investigative Reporter Ted Daniel.
Sayers said he believes the K-9 program was ended, and the dog Kano was sent away, because of his union involvement and because he had filed his hostile work environment complaint against one of the chief’s closest allies.
“Retaliation, from my role as union president for Local 476, which is the Abington Police Association,” Sayers said.
Sayers said he also believes the chief is discriminating against him and others on the force who have requested special dispensation from the town because they are classified as disabled military veterans.
Chief Del Papa did not return a message Investigative Reporter Ted Daniel left for him on December 14 and did not speak when Daniel approached him outside the police station about a month later.
Sayers said two supervisors he had filed formal complaints against were standing with Chief Del Papa when he was handed the “end of assignment” letter.
“I was to immediately bring Kano to the Plymouth County House of Corrections to turn him over,” Sayers said. “I was very emotional going down to Plymouth knowing that I probably won’t see Kano again.”
The chief’s letter to Officer Sayers said his “repeated behavior shows an inability to follow policies... as a K-9 officer.”
It said that Sayers failed to “complete a report in a timely manner” and “failed to conduct traffic enforcement” during two shifts, and performed training with Kano that was not approved.
Sayers had also been disciplined for damaging a town field with his patrol car while training Kano on it. Chief Del Papa accused him of conduct unbecoming a police officer for that incident, a mark that appears on Sayer’s permanent record.
COMPLAINTS FILED AGAINST ABINGTON
Since he was appointed union president in June, Sayers said he has helped six officers file complaints against the administration. He says five of the officers, including himself, are classified as disabled military veterans.
In a statement, the town’s attorney says the chief’s decision to end the K-9 program was in the best interest of the town and “not undertaken lightly.”
The statement says that decision was based on “...making the best use of the limited staffing available,” and “The Town’s needs for K9 services will be met through our mutual aid partners in Weymouth, Rockland, Holbrook and Brockton, all of which abut Abington. We also have access to K9 services from the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, the State Police, and the Town of Braintree.”
In reference to the complaints against the administration filed by Sayers and six other officers, the town’s attorney says: “...we respectfully decline to comment on any personnel matter or pending litigation.”
The same statement was released in October to the Abington News.
Sayers said he and two other officers have also filed complaints against the department with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination.
25 Investigates filed a public records request for any documents associated with those complaints.
MCAD said it does not release any information about cases under investigation.
Sayers provided a copy of the Oct. 2 complaint he filed with MCAD.
“Over the course of the last year or so, I have been targeted and harassed by the Chief of Police David Del Papa and now believe that I am (along with other disabled veterans) being discriminated against because of our status as disabled veterans,” the complaint reads.
“Most recently, after attorneys had warned the chief that there would be complaints coming forward regarding his discriminatory treatment of officers as well as retaliation against anyone who makes such complaints, the chief unilaterally removed me from the canine unit,” Sayers wrote. “The chief transferred my dog who is my partner, who I have an emotional tie with to the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department. There is no doubt in my mind this was retaliatory because I have stood up and filed complaints about the way he treats disabled veterans on the department.”
“WHEN A DISABLED VETERAN LOSES THEIR K-9″
Sayers said he was the K-9 officer for the town of Abington for nearly 3 years.
He said he created the position and funded it with a $27,000 grant from a private foundation.
Sayers spent his days and nights with his work partner Kano — a Belgian Malinois — who became a part of his family. Kano slept in a kennel erected in Sayer’s backyard and pictures and videos Sayers provided show the dog playing with his young daughter.
“He’s very social,” Sayers said. “He was great with my family, but when it came time to work, he was willing to work.”
Sayers said he and Kano helped find criminals, drugs, and missing people while primarily working the evening shift together.
James Lamont, the founder of the K-9 PTSD center in Seekonk, retrains and cares for dogs that have served in the military and law enforcement.
“That’s going to hurt a lot,” Lamont said of the decision to take away Sayers’ police dog. “Losing his dog, a program that he started.”
Lamont said it’s unusual for a police dog to be immediately separated from their handler — in part because of the time invested in training.
“The officer that’s involved in this is a disabled veteran,” Lamont said, of Sayers. “And I think that cuts deeper when a disabled veteran loses their K-9.”
“They’re losing their best friend in that moment,” Lamont said. “And it is devastating to see.”
Sayers said he has learned Kano is now with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Boston.
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