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SBI finds no crime committed in Bryson City K9 death

Carol Skaziak, founder of Throw Away Dogs Project in Pennsylvania, is pictured with Kanon, a K9 trained officer adopted out to Bryson City Police Department. Donated photo Carol Skaziak, founder of Throw Away Dogs Project in Pennsylvania, is pictured with Kanon, a K9 trained officer adopted out to Bryson City Police Department. Donated photo

After conducting a limited review into the death of a Bryson City K9, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations issued a decision that it’s unlikely a criminal offense occurred. 

It’s not the decision Carol Skaziak was looking for as she continues to seek justice for Kanon, the K9 trained officer her organization Throw Away Dogs trained and donated to the Bryson City Police Department back in November 2017. 

According to the police department, the 2-year-old Dutch shepherd died at the home of his assigned handler on March 13, 2018, after allegedly choking on a piece of plastic he tore off of his doghouse. Skaziak said she didn’t think she was getting the full story. 

While Police Chief Greg Jones claimed Kanon’s death was a tragic accident, former officers with the department said Kanon was placed with an officer who wasn’t properly trained and that his death was likely due to negligence. 

Skaziak, who lives in Pennsylvania, decided to reach out to the 30th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for help. Assistant District Attorney Jason Arnold advised her that he had asked the SBI to look into the matter. The SBI told him the Assistant Special Agent in Charge over the district had agreed to accept Arnold’s request but only for a limited review. 

“This review would be limited in scope to look at the allegations and reports to see if it was likely a provable criminal offense had occurred before additional resources would be diverted and an agent assigned to work the case,” Arnold wrote in an email to Skaziak. “The NCSBI has finished the limited review and they cannot find it likely a provable criminal offense had occurred to justify any further investigation. I know this is not what you wanted to hear. Thank you so much for what you do to help these animals and the law enforcement community around the country.” 

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The Throw Away Dogs Project is a nonprofit organization with the mission of savings dogs from shelters, training them to be K9 officers and relocating them to communities who need their skills. Experienced K9 law enforcement officers train the dogs for at least six months before they’re adopted out. 

Since the nonprofit formed in 2014, Skaziak said she’s placed 24 dogs with law enforcement agencies all over the country, but she said nothing like this has ever happened to one of her dogs. She says the Bryson City Police Department did not meet its contractual obligations and their negligence led to Kanon’s death. 

When the police department’s former K9 handler Chris Dudley, who now works for Swain County Sheriff’s Office, reached out to Throw Away Dogs for a donation and signed a contract to get Kanon, the department was obligated to complete the required training for the handler and the K9 to be certified together as a unit within 150 days of the adoption. If that training isn’t completed within the 150 days, the agreement stated that the agency would forfeit the donation and the dog are supposed be returned to Throw Away Dogs Project. 

The agreement specifies that if for any reason the donated canine is unacceptable for training or if any unforeseeable circumstances occur, the dog should be returned to the nonprofit immediately. Agencies are not allowed to sell, give away or surrender the dog to any other shelter. 

Dudley signed the paperwork agreeing to be Kanon’s handler since his K9 was nearing retirement, but changed his mind once Kanon was brought to the agency. Chief Jones was left to look for another handler to place the dog with but didn’t have any other qualified or willing officers. He placed Kanon with a new hire Jeff Fowler who had recently graduated Basic Law Enforcement Training but didn’t yet have his state law enforcement certification and was not a trained K9 handler. The department supplied Fowler with food, a doghouse and a kennel for him to keep Kanon at his house and begin bonding and training with him.

The state certification process took longer than expected because of some issues with Fowler’s background check and before it could be sorted out, Jones said Fowler called him early on the morning of March 13 to tell him the dog died sometime in the middle of the night. 

Skaziak said even the way the police department handled the situation after Kanon’s death was suspicious at best. Though she instructed Jones not to cremate the dog until an autopsy could be performed, he went ahead with the cremation. Skaziak received Kanon’s ashes in the mail and a brief condolence letter signed by Town Manager Regina Mathis dated May 11.

Besides a strong reprimand from the town board, Jones said no one in his department received any disciplinary action because of the events that led to Kanon’s death. Mayor Tom Sutton said there had been no internal investigation into the incident.

Since Dudley left the department to work for the sheriff’s office, the police department is without a K9 unit, which Jones said could hamper the department’s ability to fight the growing drug epidemic. Because of the incident with Kanon and because the cost of a new K9 and training can run $15,000, Jones said it was unlikely the department would get another K9 unit.

As for Skaziak, she said she is not giving up on finding out what really happened and will continue to explore legal recourse.

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