June 29, 2017 10:52:16 AM
The Columbus Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the work of its animal control officers due to a report submitted by a private investigator.
Assistant Police Chief Fred Shelton, who directly supervises city animal control officers Alexius Jones and Joshua Sharp, confirmed the investigation to The Dispatch. Shelton said he could not comment on the investigation's specifics because it is a personnel matter.
A private investigator working for local firm Incognito Investigations, who asked only to be identified as Rick, said a group of citizens approached him about the officers in April. He said he and another investigator tracked the officers during April and submitted a report to the police department a month later in a meeting with Police Chief Oscar Lewis and a CPD investigator.
"I've got proof where they've been outside of the city limits conducting personal business in the animal control officer vehicle -- one of them being a barbershop that one of the gentlemen owns," Rick said.
Rick said he and the other investigator saw the animal control officers at the barbershop -- which is outside city limits near the Hargrove Road-Yorkville Road intersection -- at least three times per week, and multiple times per day on some occasions.
The times they were there varied, he said, ranging from mid-morning to afternoons. He said the vehicle remained at the barbershop for up to 90 minutes at times.
"I don't know what their day-to-day activities are or what their job description is," Rick told The Dispatch. "I feel comfortable telling you that it is not going to a barbershop that one of them owns and operates out in the county."
Jones is listed as the property owner for a parcel on Hargrove Road, and it contains a metal building with a displayed sign reading "Lexy Barber Shop." However, county tax records do not show a business operating from that location.
Shelton, when asked, said Rick's account matched some of the allegations he presented to the police department.
"We're going to see what the investigation reveals," Shelton said. "If there are some violations of procedure, they'll be dealt with. If not, they will continue to serve as they have been."
An email, which notified The Dispatch of the private investigation, said there have been citizen concerns about the officers "trapping animals and leaving them in traps for weeks to die (and) strangling them on catch poles."
Shelton said the department has not received any formal complaints about those issues or the officers in general.
Lowndes County Humane Society representatives declined to comment on record. Both Rick and a Humane Society representative said the organization was not involved in the investigation.
The Dispatch could not obtain a copy of the private investigator's report, as it involves a personnel matter with the city and Rick would not provide one to the newspaper.
Officer pay, responsibilities
Jones has worked with the department since April 2013 and is paid $12.31 per hour. Sharp began working with the department on Jan. 25 and is paid $7.75 per hour, according to city human resources director Pat Mitchell.
Shelton said both officers are full-time employees.
According to the most recent monthly animal control report, which includes data through May, the officers apprehended 228 animals during the first five months of the year. That total breaks down to 34 in January; 38 in February; 47 in March; 27 in April; and 82 in May. The officers have also issued 21 citations this year.
Shelton said dogs and cats make up the bulk of apprehended animals, though the officers sometimes catch wild animals such as raccoons and squirrels. On rare occasions, he said, they apprehend horses.
Animal control officers can issue citations for a number of offenses, including animal cruelty, no rabies tag, leash law violations and improper confinement. Citations can carry fines of up to $300 or $400, Shelton said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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