OCEAN CITY – Former Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Officer Earl Campbell’s message, “it is not about the money”, rang loud and clear this week as he rejected the Mayor and City Councils offer to reimburse the cost for his K-9 partner’s surgery.
At the conclusion of this week’s Mayor and City Council meeting, an unexpected gesture to reimburse Campbell for K-9 Charlie’s surgery was made.
“On behalf of the Mayor and Council, I want you to know that the discussion in regard to our K-9 dog and the police officer resigning … I want to assure you that the Mayor and Council had no part in that situation,” Council President Jim Hall said.
He continued that he considered K-9 Charlie an employee of the Town of Ocean City and because the dog was injured while he was employed the costs should be reimbursed.
“I would like to see the council at least offer the officer to reimburse him for those costs,” he said. “I think he was an employee certainly at the time. Whatever the reason, the dog was obviously hurt and it is the right thing to do.”
Earlier this month, Campbell resigned after the department reportedly took its time retiring his K-9 partner, Charlie, in order to allow him to have the surgery he required. Campbell ultimately paid for the $6,000 surgery.
Charlie was originally injured in May of 2009 and required surgery to repair and replace slipped discs in his back. Charlie later returned to service with the department, but scar tissue from the original surgery was causing nerve damage in the animal’s back and it became evident a second surgery was needed.
By Nov. 28, Campbell knew it was time to alleviate Charlie’s severe pain but he wasn’t entirely sure on how to proceed. If the dog wasn’t officially retired by the department, he remained town property, and Campbell felt he could not have the surgery done because the dog did not technically belong to him. It wasn’t until Dec. 5 that Campbell received the retirement papers from Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and the surgery took place.
DiPino said this week to her recollection Charlie was not initially injured during activity involved with his duties, but she would look into it. She said the department did pay for Charlie’s initial surgery and other medical expenses.
“Since 2009, we spent over $8,000 and some dollars for various surgeries for K-9 Charlie,” she said.
The chief said there is still a question regarding whether the surgery was needed or not.
“The police department acted responsively in handling the situation,” she said. “We care about our horses, our dogs and our police officers, and we followed the procedures that we have in place. A lot of the information is being blown out of proportion and it is not accurate, and it is just not a fair depiction of our officers.”
DiPino said that Campbell never once asked the police department to pay for Charlie’s surgery, although the department would have considered it.
“It is an unfortunate situation and I think we all need to move forward,” she said.
Councilman Joe Hall was cautious in voting to reimburse the officer until information was provided regarding the situation, for instance whether the surgery was necessary.
“It is not going to change the health of the dog, and maybe it is a good will gesture, and it makes the community feel better … but for me I would prefer the motion be the chief get the necessary information to bring back,” he said. “There are necessary surgeries and then there are elective surgeries. I am not against paying it. I just want the right information.”
The council voted in favor of the motion to offer a reimbursement to Campbell for Charlie’s surgery with Councilman Brent Ashley and Joe Hall in opposition.
On Wednesday, Campbell sent a letter to the council, rejecting the offer. “Ever since I brought this to light I never asked anybody to pay for Charlie. That was never the issue,” he said. “The issue was they allowed him to suffer and that is what I want corrected. I want a policy set into place that the next time this happens another family does not have to go through what we went through.”
When the vet had told him Charlie would never return to the department full-time, Campbell worried the police department was going to make the choice of either having the dog get the surgery or put him to sleep.
“I didn’t want to put the dog to sleep because he is part of my family,” he said. “So I threw out there that I would pay for the surgery, just retire him and I will take care of it.”
Campbell said he has reached out to the council and would like to speak with the body on how to correct the situation.
“The dog was allowed to suffer because supposedly there was a piece of paper that was needed … I don’t care what kind of piece of paper it is, the dog should not have to sit in pain when a decision should be made,” he said. “It is not that hard to fix the problem. You just need to implement a procedure.”
Campbell said he is willing to meet with the council when the opportunity is made available to him.
“I just want to tell them what happened, my side of the story, and make sure that it will never happen again,” he said. “It’s not about the money. I just can’t say that enough, that’s not what this is about.”