Man escapes dog cage while being held in K-9 vehicle, MPs resign

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT/Gray News) — An investigation continues in North Carolina where two lawmakers are out of work after the arrest of a man gone awry.

The Pender County Sheriff’s Office reports that the incident in question occurred on Feb. 27 when officers were responding to a situation in which a couple were fighting in a supermarket parking lot.

WECT reports that a female deputy arrested the woman and a male deputy arrested the man involved in the brawl when they arrived at the scene, according to the sheriff’s office.

However, the male deputy’s squad car was repaired and he drove a K-9 handler’s car as a backup vehicle.

The K-9 vehicle featured a dog cage in the rear instead of space to hold and transport suspects.

Authorities said the man involved in the fight was extremely combative and was armed with a gun. The deputies had to wrestle him to the ground in order to handcuff him. Deputies then needed a place to house him and said they were advised by a supervisor that “a cage is a cage” and took the suspect to the rear of the K-9 unit.

The vehicle’s rear seat had plenty of room, but it had no seats or seat belts as it was designed to accommodate a dog.

Normally, MPs would have gone to jail immediately, but they couldn’t legally transport the suspect without a seatbelt for him.

Therefore, the police waited for the arrival of reinforcements with the right transport vehicle. However, this lasted about 30 minutes, and during that time the suspect broke away. According to the sheriff’s office, he managed to remove the dog door in the deputy’s car and crawl into the front seat of the K-9 vehicle before leaving the scene.

WECT received body camera video of the incident in question.

The Pender Co. Sheriff’s Office released body camera footage of an attempted arrest of a man in February. (Source: WECT)

About 19 minutes into the video, more law enforcement officers arrived at the scene and the four officers planned how to move the detainee.

The video then shows them with leg shackles, a taser and a service weapon as they prepare for a potentially combative transfer from the K-9 vehicle.

However, when they turned back, the driver’s door of the K-9 vehicle was open and the man was gone.

The sheriff’s office confirmed that the suspect was able to recover his gun, money and drugs during the escape.

About two hours after the arrest, the sheriff’s office issued a press release asking for the public’s help in locating the escaped suspect. But authorities had mistakenly identified the wrong person as a suspect.

So the sheriff’s office corrected the release the next day, but 30 days later the original man in question remains at large.

After the escape, the deputies involved in the arrest were placed on administrative leave while the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation.

MPs said they were not given the right equipment to do their job, which put them in a dangerous position – setting the stage for the detainee’s escape.

Both MPs resigned in the weeks that followed, saying they felt sidelined despite their previously excellent track record.

The two also released a joint statement:

“On February 27, we were both assigned to the most populous side of the county and given the inadequate equipment to carry out our duties as police officers. Later that evening, while responding to a domestic situation, we encountered an armed, combative subject.

After fighting for several minutes and taking the individual into custody, we were forced to secure the still combative arrestee in the K-9 vehicle as our only option. This was the safest option to protect ourselves and the community.

As deputies, we did our job with the given means and means and didn’t do anything wrong that evening. We were both honest in all aspects of the internal investigation but unfortunately had to resign. This is an unfortunate situation and a devastating action by Sheriff Alan Cutler against two amazing MPs.”

An internal investigation continues, and Sheriff Alan Cutler claims that the vehicle used that night was not the problem.

“I saw no problem in this investigation with him actually putting that person in the back seat of that car. But of course, for their safety and for the safety of law enforcement, we need to keep our eyes on a person while they’re in there,” Cutler said.

While a policy change could potentially result from this incident, Cutler said that at this time the K-9 vehicle will continue to be used for routine patrols when required due to vehicle shortages in the department.

“Our MEPs could definitely have done better that night. And I recognize that I am ultimately responsible for the actions of our MPs, whether I am with them or not. We have always tried to be transparent and we will continue to be so. Basically all we can do now is try to do the right thing afterwards,” Cutler said.

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