About 60 people turned out Monday night for the usually lightly-attended Lebanon City Council meeting to show their unhappiness over the July 6 killing of Gunner, the 15-month-old, 50-pound escaped dog shot by city police officers after unsuccessful attempts to restrain him with a catch pole.

Gunner’s death was caught on surveillance video and sparked widespread outrage and a demonstration in front of City Hall earlier this month. Police maintain that Gunner was a “danger and a threat,” but are refusing to release body camera video from the three officers involved.

Annville veterinarian Diane Ford spoke at the July 25 meeting on behalf of Gunner’s supporters. Saying that she was “appalled” by Gunner’s death, Ford told council that “on almost a daily basis, my staff and I are faced with aggressive animals but we all know how to correctly use a catch pole and are all educated in animal handling. There is no reason your police force cannot be just as educated.”

Ford said she and Grantville’s Davis Dog Farm, from where Gunner was adopted, “are offering to help purchase proper equipment for the department as well as arrange for proper training for your officers.”

“When faced with an aggressive dog,” Ford said, “we need education on dog handling, common sense, and compassion, three things the officers lacked on the day of Gunner’s death. However, it is my professional opinion that Gunner was not aggressive.”

Ford asked that criminal charges be filed against the officers and suggested that “any humane police officer with jurisdiction in Lebanon County … launch an investigation.” Pennsylvania law allows “an agent of a society or association for the prevention of cruelty to animals” to initiate criminal proceedings in the same manner as municipal police officers.

Ford ended her remarks by calling the city’s assertion that the unreleased police body camera video shows a different version of Gunner’s final moments “nonsensical.”

“A view from one angle is the same from every angle,” she said.

Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello replied by pointing out that city police had responded to 1,228 dog calls since 2019, 300 of which involved a “direct encounter” with a dog. Out of those incidents, she said, just two have resulted in the use of force.

“The officers involved in the incident were trained in how to properly use a catch pole,” the mayor said. “There was more involved in that situation,” she added, without elaborating.

“We feel our officers handled it properly, given the circumstances,” Capello said. “A tail that is wagging is not necessarily a sign of a friendly dog.”

Capello said that the city had received a letter from an attorney representing Jacklyn and Jamie Shughart, Gunner’s owners, which made certain “demands.” While acknowledging that no lawsuit had been filed, Capello said that the city considers the matter in “pending litigation” and will not make the police body camera footage public.

Neither the mayor nor any council member indicated whether the city would accept Ford’s offer of training and equipment.

Plans underway to replace old firetrucks

City Council took the first steps last night to replace two older firetrucks when it agreed to use American Rescue Plan funds to pay half the cost of new vehicles.

The city’s firefighting fleet consists of pumper trucks purchased in 1996, 2001, 2002, 2015, and 2016, and two ladder trucks purchased in 1999 and 2004.

Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman noted that the Rescue Hose Company’s ladder truck and the Union Hose Company’s pumper truck, purchased in 1999 and 1996, respectively, are nearing the end of their useful lives and will be replaced.

Capello said the city’s 50% share is estimated to be $340,000 for the pumper truck and $650,000 for the ladder truck. The fire department will seek bids on the vehicles.

The new trucks are expected to arrive in 2024.

City to get over $600,000 in CDBG money

Council also approved a plan to spend Community Development Block Grant money this year.

At a public hearing during last Thursday’s pre-counci planning meeting, economic development coordinator Janelle Mendoff said the city expects to receive $665,566 in CDBG money during 2022, and to generate another $20,000 of program income. CDBG grants come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city plans to spend the money, primarily in low-income areas, as follows:

  • Police and crime prevention – $96,000
  • Street improvements – $139,566
  • Housing rehabilitation and home buyer assistance – $80,000
  • Code enforcement – $100,000
  • General administration – $130,000
  • Water main improvements – $140,000

Other business before City Council

  • Council confirmed the mayor’s reappointment of Ed Lynch Jr. and Becky Dreibelbis to new five-year terms on the Zoning Hearing Board, effective July 15. Dreibelbis has served since 2002, Lynch since 2006.
  • Through June 30, with the fiscal year 50% complete, the mayor reported that city revenues were at 68% of budget projections, and expenditures at 37%.
  • Council approved, on first reading, an ordinance allowing the public auction of a city-owned building at 164 N. Ninth St. PennDOT required the city to buy the property over 10 years ago to house a family displaced by the construction of the 9th Street bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. Council will have to approve the measure again next month to make it final.
  • Council approved, on first reading, an amendment to a city ordinance that will change Trautman’s official title from “fire commissioner” to “fire chief.” The latter title is much more common throughout the county and the state, and “commissioner” can lead to confusion, according to Capello.

Next City Council Meetings

City Council’s next pre-council planning meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 18, at 4:45 p.m. The next regular monthly council meeting will be on Monday, Aug. 22, at 6:30 p.m.

Both meetings are open to the public and will be held in the City Hall multi-purpose room, 735 Cumberland St., first floor, Lebanon.

Meetings are also live streamed on YouTube here.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...