K-9 officer reassigned after dog incident

August 16
August 16, 2007
Louella Breaux
August 20, 2007
August 16
August 16, 2007
Louella Breaux
August 20, 2007

Thibodaux Police Chief Craig Melancon addressed pubic concerns over the July 25 police canine incident near a street adjacent to the Sanders Street apartment complex last Thursday.

At a news conference last week, Melancon said he wanted to salvage the police department’s reputation with in the community.

According to the police chief, there seems to be a misunderstanding between the public and the police department as what actually happened on Wednesday, July 25, at approximately 8 p.m.

Melancon reported K-9 Oofficer Ronnie Comeaux said he opened the back door of his police cruiser and tried to grab hold of the dog’s collar when the dog broke free, subsequently coming into contact with two young boys and frightening several others.

The initial incident began when officer Comeaux, a three-year veteran of the department, stopped 24-year-old Quincy Wagner, 24, for obstruction of a roadway citation.

According to Comeaux’s report, Melancon said the two [Comeaux and Wagner] began to converse over the legality of the initial stop. Comeaux stated to his superior officer that Wagner was clearly upset about the possibility of receiving a citation.

The report states that Wagner snatched the officer’s citation clipboard and struck Comeaux in the chest with it and then attempted to flee from the scene.

During the conference, Melancon questioned why Wagner ran, suggesting that he was carrying something that he didn’t want Comeaux to find.

“These would be the questions we would have posed to justify a felony from an officers action,” he said. “But in this case, the officer was wrong. And, when we’re wrong, we stand up and say we’re wrong.”

As Comeaux was pursuing Wagner the other officers responded to the scene.

Melancon said Wagner was surrounded. The 24-year-old Thibodaux resident stopped running and was making his way back toward the police cruiser when the canine ran from the rear of the vehicle, the chief said.

“Wagner immediately put his hands up and kneeled down on the ground,” Melancon said recounting what his officers told him in their reports.

Once the dog was free, he brushed passed Wagner and immediately went to the scattering crowd of people watching the incident.

The report states that the children were jumping on cars and running in the streets trying to elude the canine.

Melancon’s officers reported that while Comeaux was trying to regain control of the dog, officers quickly handcuffed Wagner and escorted him to a police cruiser.

“This indicated that the dog was released before Wagner was handcuff and not the other way around as the media portrayed it earlier,” Melancon said.

On the other hand, the community’s perception of the situation is a little different.

Witnesses have stated publicly that Comeaux released the canine on Wagner, saying, “Go get him.”

In response to the allegation, Melancon said, “The people could not have heard officer Comeaux say ‘Go get him’ because the dog only responds to German commands.”

Melancon and the community witnesses do, however, agree on one thing – the canine brushed passed Wagner kneeling on the ground and went straight for the crowd of people.

Two young boys – ages 12 and 10 – came into play with the canine. The 10-year-old was knocked over, while the 12-year-old’s pant leg was bitten as the dog dragged him from the top of a vehicle.

Neither of the boys was seriously injured. Melancon said the boys and their mothers came to the police department, where they were photographed for possible bite marks.

Melancon said the children were obviously afraid of the dog.

“[The younger boy’s] mother, Courtney Phipps, and [the older boy’s] mother, Sheila Williams, had every right to be angry at the situation,” he said. “The officer was wrong for opening the door. Had officer Comeaux not opened the door, the situation would not have escalated and two young boys would not have been scared.”

Melancon said that’s where the violations of departmental ethics occurred, which lead to Comeaux’s one-day suspension without pay and removal from the canine division.

The chief said parents reported to the media that two unidentified officers told the two young boys who came into contact with the dog, “If you don’t stop crying you will be taken the jail.” And another saying, “If you hadn’t ran the dog would not have jump on you.”

Other community residents have reported other unidentified officers made racial slurs to the crowd regarding the incident, he added.

Melancon was outraged by the allegations, saying if he knew who the officers were they would be immediately terminated from the department.

“We don’t tolerate that kind of behavior in our department,” he said.

Lafourche Parish NAACP President Burnell Tolbert has addressed the racial bias of the police department to the local media on several occasions in the past couple of weeks.

Repeated calls to Tolbert remained unreturned as of press time.

As to how and why the dog was release remains a mystery. However, Melancon is asking residents who witnessed the racial slurs as well as the initial incident come forward so that he can get a better understanding of the situation.

The canine has been suspended from the K-9 division as well.