Dog fight: WB officer’s posts on K9 transfer prompt internal probe

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
Wilkes-Barre police officer Kevin Novackowski is seen with K-9 officer Skoty in a photo from social media. - Facebook

WILKES-BARRE — A city police officer who hired an attorney to fight the reassignment of the K9 dog he worked with is the focus of an internal investigation for making his battle public on social media.

On his personal Facebook page, Wilkes-Barre City Police Officer Kevin Novackowski criticized the city’s decision to reassign the dog, Skoty, to Officer Daniel Roper.

Novackowski also posted about the situation in a Facebook group called “Keep Skoty Home,” which states: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, our beloved K-9 Skoty may be taken from us for nothing more than political reasons.”

In a May 16 email to Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Marcella Lendacky and other city officials obtained by the Times Leader, Novackowski wrote that he would consider suing unless Skoty was retired and returned to him permanently.

“The stress put upon me from this whole process is more than I’m able to handle (and I) will be seeking financial compensation from both the PBA and city,” Novackowski wrote.

Novackowski responded to a request for comment Thursday only to ask how his city-issued email address was obtained by a reporter.

Internal investigation

Through her secretary, Gwen Garrett, Chief Lendacky said she cannot comment on the situation because it is a personnel matter.

But city Administrator Ted Wampole confirmed Novackowski’s actions are being reviewed.

“There’s an internal investigation,” Wampole said, adding it is “regarding the information that’s been out there on social media.”

In other social media posts, the officer blamed “small town petty politics” and “very small, petty and vindictive people” for his separation from the dog he worked with since 2016.

“(Skoty) was rehomed with another officer today. I’m sure my best friend is confused as to what’s happening to him. I thank everyone for the support today and the fight has just started,” Novackowski wrote in a May 18 post on “Keep Skoty Home.”

“A ‘man’ who takes another mans (sic) dog against his will is not a man,” Novackowski wrote in another post.

Novackowski’s attorney, Kimberly Borland of Wilkes-Barre, declined to comment on the investigation.

However, Borland said it is his client’s intention to proceed with civil litigation against the city and the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association, the union representing Novackowski, for missing the deadline to begin the dog’s retraining with the new officer within 60 days of a Jan. 25 arbitration settlement.

“They have disregarded that and that’s not acceptable,” Borland said. “It’s certainly not fair to Kevin, but it’s also very unfair to the dog.”

Training delay

While Novackowski’s legal case focuses on a missed deadline, he failed to transfer Skoty to Roper on 5:30 a.m. May 18 for training.

Neither Skoty nor Chase, the other K9 unit dog purchased with donations and the proceeds of fundraisers, are active and have been out of service for months while the city sent them for evaluation and searched for a new trainer. Chase was removed for public safety reasons by Mayor Tony George after the dog bit an officer, the third incident involving the animal.

Wampole said the city scrapped plans to send the K9 unit to a trainer in Yardley after the trainer backed out. Another trainer was located in the Philadelphia area and a session is tentatively scheduled for next week, Wampole said.

In his email to city officials, Novackowski wrote he was out of town and unable to make the transfer. Skoty was with a “trusted and vetted ‘babysitter,’” he said, but the dog’s demeanor had changed, making him aggressive due to his separation from his family and due to loud noises from storms.

Novackowski wrote that he had spoken to his insurance agent about those concerns and was unwilling to make the transfer on his property because of liability reasons.

Novackowski stated in the email that he hired a private attorney to fight the city and union and was willing to proceed to trial — confident he would prevail.

But Novackowski proposed a deal to “cease all legal action” if Skoty was retired and transferred to him — the past city practice with K9 dogs — and a new dog was provided to Roper.

“Furthermore in my opinion and morals if I were in the position of ptlm. roper I would never take another Officers (sic) beloved dog from him. It’s a vindictive move by the PBA,” Novackowski wrote. “In closing Skoty will not be available for transfer from this point on until I’m required to report to work.”

Union’s position

PBA president Sgt. Phil Myers said the union has not filed anything regarding the missed deadline because the city has been actively looking for a trainer.

The union’s position is that it will adhere to the arbitration that there would be an attempt to retrain Skoty to serve with Roper. If that doesn’t work out, Skoty will be retired, according to the arbitration.

But Myers said Novackowski was made aware in August 2016 when he was awarded Skoty that the dog could be paired with another officer.

“So none of the remedy that has been provided should be a surprise to him,” Myers said.

The union made it clear at the time that it felt the dogs were awarded inappropriately to the officers, Myers said. Roper and a former K9 officer Stan Wychock should have been awarded the dogs after testing, Myers said. The chief refused to reconsider the award and kept Novackowski and Officer Joseph Homza in the K9 unit, Myers said.

Wychock since withdrew his name for an award, leaving Roper in line for Skoty, Myers explained.

The union filed a grievance in May 2017, claiming there was an error in the scoring for the K9 awards, Myers said. It wasn’t until Jan. 25 that a settlement was reached, he said.

“This problem was dragged out by the chief and the city,” said Myers.

Wilkes-Barre police officer Kevin Novackowski is seen with K-9 officer Skoty in a photo from social media. police officer Kevin Novackowski is seen with K-9 officer Skoty in a photo from social media. Facebook

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.