Firing of K9-abusing Minnesota deputy not justified, arbitrator rules

A Ramsey County, Minnesota deputy who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty after he was caught on camera abusing his former K9 partner will keep his job. In a decision filed Monday, state arbitrator Gil Vernon determined the sheriff’s office “did not have just cause" to terminate Brett Berry, and the deputy "is entitled to reinstatement.”

Security video from the Black Bear Casino on June 15 showed Berry hitting his K9 partner, Boone, and throwing the dog to the ground. Berry was at the Carlton, Minnesota casino with several other K9 handlers for training and certification.

Among those absolutely appalled by what he saw were his chief deputy and the sheriff.

“I was horrified...I was totally taken aback,” said Chief Deputy Jack Serier. “I couldn't believe it.”

Berry was charged with two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty for the incident. He was also charged with assaulting a public safety dog, but that charge was dismissed as part of his plea deal. He was sentenced to one year of supervised probation and a $500 fine.

“When it comes to any employee, there are times when somebody does something so egregious that I have no alternative but to take very harsh discipline with regard to that person,” Serier said.

Berry was removed from the K9 unit as the Ramsey County sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation. According to the arbitrator’s report, Berry was assigned to security at Regions Hospital and to out-of-state warrants and extraditions. Berry was fired in April at the completion of the internal investigation.

But the arbitrator determined the sheriff’s office “erred in not giving enough weight to the mitigating factors” in Berry’s favor. Specifically, Vernon noted that Berry had “nearly 20 years of incident-free service with good evaluations” and that he took immediate responsibility for his actions and sought alcohol abuse treatment.

The report added “it is significant” that a veterinary examination of K9 Boone found no injuries. Boone was reassigned to another officer and is still an effective K9.

Vernon ordered that Berry must be immediately reinstated to active duty, with a restriction that he cannot work with K9s. Berry is not entitled to back bay, according to the decision.

Based on Berry’s personnel record and his reaction to this incident, Vernon “is convinced that it was an aberration and that he deserves another (but last) chance to resume his career.”

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office is holding a Tuesday afternoon news conference to respond to the decision.

“These kinds of incidents tarnish the badge, not just for our agency, but for all law enforcement agencies,” Serier said.