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Marietta Police Chief Says Officer 'Could Have Stopped Train Wreck' Involving K9

Officials in the city of Marietta hosted a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the issue.

The saga between a Former Marietta Police officer and his battle to protect his K9 partner took a strange twist during a press conference that was supposed to clear the air about the ordeal.

K9 Officer Matt Hickey wanted to keep his dog when he retired, but when he learned that the city couldn’t legally allow him to keep the dog, even if he paid for it, the story became popular.

According to the Marietta Police Department, the officer wasn’t telling the entire truth.

Officer Hickey admits he was offered an auxiliary position by the police chief that would have allowed him to keep his dog and prevent an auction.

The city says letting the dog go to the highest bidder was what the Ohio Revised Code called for.

Now the chief claims Officer Hickey spun a story that wasn't entirely true and his words brought an onslaught of outrage onto the city.

“I'm very proud of him he's standing up for what is right and he's going to make it better for other K9 officers,” Matt’s wife, Sandra Hickey, said.

Sandra believes her husband is doing the right thing to protect his partner Ajax. A dog, she says, that is a part of their family.

“Yeah he is he's part of our family when he goes to work he's a police dog, when he comes home he’s part of the family,” she said.

When Officer Hickey decided to retire, he assumed his dog could retire with him, even though Ajax was still young and had several years of service left.

The city says legally that wasn't possible for a number of reasons. Hickey offered to pay the city for Ajax at a cost of $3,500.

But the city says that wasn't legal either. Ajax is considered property and must be disposed of like any piece of property through a public auction, according to the city law director.

Hickey told 10TV the city left him only one option: If he wanted Ajax he would have to be the highest bidder in a public auction.

Something the Chief of Police says was not entirely true.

“Former officer Hickey, for reasons known only to him, escalated the situation by being disingenuous. At every juncture, former officer Hickey chose to omit that he and I had a plan for K9 Ajax’s future and that the resolution kept Ajax with Hickey at no cost,” Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp said.

Hickey admits he agreed to the auxiliary officer position, but says that changed when he says the Police ordered Ajax removed from his home.

“I have to save my son, they were going to take him away,” he said.

For now Ajax remains with Hickey and the auction of his partner appears in limbo, until he decides whether to accept or reject the auxiliary position.

The couple says the ordeal is taking its toll.

“One moment were positive and Ajax will stay with us, the next moment we’re like what happens if someone out bids us,” Sandra said.

Marietta city council has yet to approve the auxiliary position but will take up the issue Thursday.

The city of Marietta says once the story hit the internet they have received 3,000 emails from people across the United States even as far as Australia.

State Representative Andy Thompson, who represents the Marietta area, has expressed a desire to change state law to allow future K9 officers to purchase their dogs before they retire.

As the law stands currently, only dogs that are injured in the line of duty, are too old for service, or whose unit is disbanded are allowed to be sold to officers at a cost of $1. Ajax does not meet any of those criteria.

You can view the press release from the Marietta Police Department below along with video of Monday's press conference.

At a time in our nation’s history when support for law enforcement has fallen to a low not seen in decades, the outpouring of support for a former K9 police officer, Matt Hickey, and his K9 partner, Ajax, is the one bright spot in the frenzy surrounding this issue. From around the country and even the globe, an onslaught of outrage has been heaped against the city for the perceived injustice of separating a retiring K9 officer from his K9 partner. This is the very city, Marietta that I have pledged to defend and protect. That pledge includes all residents, two and four legged. That pledge requires following and upholding the laws of this state and city even if unpopular. That pledge includes a defense of truth as well. Now it is time for the facts to come out.

Throughout the fall of 2015, Officer Hickey had verbalized that he anticipated a retirement after the first of the year and after 30 years’ service including many years as the department’s first canine officer. K9 retirement is handled a bit differently. K9s who are retired due to age or infirmity are offered to their former partners, by law, for $1.00.Officer Hickey has handled other K9s and those dogs, on their retirement, were transferred to Officer Hickey. This situation however, is quite different in that while Officer Hickey has earned his retirement, his partner Ajax has several working years left before he is ready to join the ranks of the retirees this according to the master trainer that Officer Hickey and others recommended to me. Since K9 Ajax is not ready for retirement, the city could not pursue the retirement option. City Law Director Paul Bertram researched and found that because Ajax is not ready for retirement, how he is handled is mandated by the Ohio Revised Code. That is the law. This is the very law that both former officer Hickey and I have sworn to uphold and with which we are both very familiar.

In researching this matter, I consulted with a local and well respected K9 trainer, who advised me that a similar circumstance had occurred in a local community, and they had sold their K9 to the former handler for $4000. Familiar with Ajax, he valued him at $3500.

I kept Officer Hickey informed of what I found and suggested that Marietta City Council would have to craft special legislation to accomplish this sale. When I was unexpectedly presented with Officer Hickey’s retirement letter on the 25th of January, effective immediately, I again explained that I could not accept the $3500 that he brought for the sale of Ajax. I had earlier engaged in several conversations with Officer Hickey and he was well aware of the circumstances. The City and I were left to scramble for quick answers, the result being that Marietta Law Director Paul Bertram indicated that he believed our options were very limited and that Ajax would have to be regarded as City property and auctioned, as the Ohio Revised Code mandates. I knew, however, that Law Director Bertram was continuing research, in an effort to rectify the situation.

At the Council committee meeting to address K9 Ajax, held on the evening of January 28th, just three days after former officer Hickey’s surprise retirement, all council members voiced support for keeping Ajax with former officer Hickey. A number of options were explored and Law Director Bertram assured all present that he would press forward with research. As the meeting wound down, I considered whether my department could revitalize our former volunteer auxiliary program and keep Ajax with former officer Hickey as an auxiliary member. I immediately spoke to Service Director Jonathon Hupp who was present and, who was totally agreeable, but he indicated that it would need further legal research. Law Director Bertram was made aware of the suggestion and agreed to expedite the issue. Finally, I spoke with former officer Hickey and asked if he would be willing to sign up as an auxiliary member and keep Ajax as issued to him as his K9 partner to be involved in community relations. He readily agreed; we both expressed that it would be a win/win for everyone, the city, him, the department and Ajax. I regarded the matter as being resolved except for the paperwork and left the meeting confident that we had found the solution to keep Ajax with former officer Hickey at no cost to him.

That evening, as social media began to spin the tale of half-truths, the Service Director could not reply. No solid answers had been reached. The Law Director believed he could not reply as he was bound by confidentiality of city business. But one person was central to this and was not bound by any mandate or confidentiality. As social media and the press ramped up around what should have been now rendered a non-issue, former officer Hickey, for reasons known only to him, escalated the situation by being disingenuous. At every juncture, former officer Hickey chose to omit that he and I had a plan for K9 Ajax’s future and that the resolution kept Ajax with Hickey at no cost to him. Each time former officer Hickey was interviewed by various media sources, he had an opportunity to tell the truth and diffuse the situation and to explain that the city he served was not composed of or lead by cold, heartless and greedy people. At no time did former officer Hickey explain that City officials both elected and appointed were working to keep Ajax with him. Being a professional police officer means working to diffuse contentious situations, especially when something so simple as telling the truth is all that’s required.

In spite of what has already happened, the city of Marietta still wishes to extend an appointment to the position of a police auxiliary force member to former officer Hickey, which offer was made to him and agreed upon on the evening of Thursday, January 28 th,2016. His duties as part of his commission would include continuing as auxiliary police K9 handler and keeper for Ajax. It is the position of the city just as it was Thursday night, that this is the best possible resolution for the city, the police department, former officer Hickey and Ajax.

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