Fired Officer's Supporters Continue Fight For Dog

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COLUMBIA - Fired Columbia Police Officer Rob Sanders' supporters will make a plea for him to keep his canine patrol dog, Fano, at Monday night's city council meeting. This comes after Chief Ken Burton said last week the former officer would not be allowed to purchase the dog because of a liability issue.

"They're trained to bite on command and things like that, so the liability is obvious even when they're working for us there's liability," Burton said. "So, having it in the hands of a private citizen would make that liability even higher."

But Sanders' supporters have a different opinion. "It's not the city giving some dangerous, grievous weapon to someone," Sanders' friend and former Boone County K-9 handler Doug Lane said. "It would be Rob's Dog period. If someone came on his property, he would be liable, not the city of Columbia."

Sanders' supporters point to section 273.036 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, which says, "The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public porperty, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's or possessor's knowledge of such viciousness."  Sanders' supporters claim that statue would keep the city from facing financial responsibility.

Some of Sanders' supporters created a Facebook page called Canine Fano in support of the cause. Retired Boone County and Hallsville police officer Doug Lane is one of the the page's administrators. He said the bond between a canine handler and his or her patrol dog is one that should not be broken. 

If Sanders does not gain possession of Fano, CPD will board the dog for $15 a day in Cape Girardeau until another officer decides to train the dog. Sanders' supporters say the city is wasting money by doing this, rather than accepting Sanders' offer to buy the dog.

Burton fired Sanders on Sept. 21 for use of excessive force after video apparently showed Sanders went into a holding cell and forced a suspect to the ground. The incident occurred August 15th. The officer was placed on administrative leave on August 24th.

Internal Affairs cleared Sanders of the incident after an investigation, Sanders said. His supporters say Burton has a history of judges overturning his decisions to terminate officers while he was a police chief in Texas. Burton acknowledged this by saying a few terminations he made were overturned, but it doesn't mean he was wrong in his decision to terminate them.

Burton and Sanders had only spoken face-to-face a couple times in the past, Burton said.