Lawsuit over dog-death settled

Lawsuit over dog-death settled

CREATED Apr 14, 2012

Web Producer: Marissa Pasquet

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) - Lawyers tentatively settled a lawsuit by a Chandler police officer who accused Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of violating his rights by arresting the officer in the death of his police dog.

Police Sgt. Tom Lovejoy settled his case against Arpaio for $775,000 on Friday, just days before jury selection in the civil case was set to begin. The settlement must still be approved by county officials before the deal is completed.

Lovejoy was charged with animal abuse in the August 2007 death of his police dog, a Belgian Malinois named Bandit. The dog died from excessive heat after being left in a hot police vehicle for 12 hours in Arizona's blistering summer heat.

Lovejoy, who is still a Chandler officer but no longer works as a dog handler, was acquitted of the top-tier misdemeanor charge and accused Arpaio of trumping up the criminal case against him in the death of the officer's police dog so Arpaio could exploit the publicity from this case.

Arpaio argues that Lovejoy lacks evidence connecting the sheriff to Lovejoy's arrest and, in any event, that various legal doctrines shield the sheriff.

The sheriff's office said in a written statement that the case was settled for $175,000. But an Arpaio aide said, later in an interview, that the costs of concluding the case was $775,000, consisting of $175,000 for the officer himself and the rest for his attorney fees.

Arpaio's office said the decision to settle the case was a prudent financial decision and the sheriff admitted no wrongdoing. "I will continue to enforce animal cruelty laws at every turn," Arpaio said in the statement.

Lovejoy's attorney, Michael Manning, said it was wise for Arpaio's office to settle the case. "Our verdict would have been quite higher, so it was prudent for them to settle," Manning said.

The sheriff denied that he made the decision to arrest Lovejoy, and his detectives said they felt no pressure from Arpaio.

Lovejoy had had little sleep and had worked extra shifts in the days leading up to the dog's death. When a boss awakened him on a call, the officer put the dog in the SUV but was called back. He left the dog in the vehicle and it died.

The story was propelled by a mug shot of the dog. The photo, which appeared regularly in newspapers and on TV in the summer of 2007, tugged at people's hearts. The photo shows a sweet-faced dog with his head cocked to one side and ears pointing upward.

After the investigation was concluded, a sheriff's investigator asked Lovejoy to come downtown. Arpaio was doing a news conference announcing Lovejoy's arrest as Lovejoy was driving to the sheriff's office. Then he got a call from a news reporter about his arrest during the drive. He was arrested once he got there, according to a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake.

He was charged with a top-tier misdemeanor in leaving the dog unattended in the SUV. A year after the animal's death, a justice of the peace found Lovejoy not guilty of the charge.

A prosecutor specializing in animal cruelty cases concluded the case was weak. He and another prosecutor refused to continue prosecuting Lovejoy, so another prosecutor was found, according to Wake's ruling.

The judge ruled that investigators uncovered no evidence that Lovejoy recognized that he was leaving the dog in the SUV or had any reason to harm the dog. And the judge said there was no probable cause to arrest Lovejoy. "No reasonable person could think it did," Wake wrote in his December ruling.

The judge also wrote there was enough evidence that could make a reasonable jury could conclude that Arpaio made the executive decision to arrest Lovejoy, or acquiesced in others' decision to do so, and had reckless disregard toward Lovejoy as he sought publicity.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)