Canton police chief says K-9 officer's use of force 'unjustified,' recommends he be fired (2024)

Canton police chief says K-9 officer's use of force 'unjustified,' recommends he be fired (1)
  • Canton City Police Chief John Gabbard has recommended that Officer Nicholas Casto be fired for his "unjustified" use of a police dog during an arrest.
  • A pre-disciplinary termination hearing for Casto has been set for June 21 at Canton City Hall.

CANTON − The police chief says a city officer’s use of his dog to detain a man last week was “unjustified” and is recommending the officer be fired.

Police Chief John Gabbard notified officer Nicholas Casto on Thursday that he is recommending to the city’s safety director that Casto be fired for using his K-9 to arrest a man on May 30 in the 1100 block of 16th Street NW, according to records obtained by the Canton Repository through a public records request.

Videos released by police and posted to social media show three city officers already had the man lying facedown in the grass with his hands crossed behind him before Casto approached with his K-9, Scooby, and allowed the dog to aggressively bite the man’s arm that was still crossed behind his back.

“In assessing this incident, I have determined that your actions are clearly outside of the training you have received as well as our policies, rules and regulations,” Gabbard wrote in his notification letter to Casto. “I believe you included demonstrably false information in your written account of the arrest in order to justify the level of force that was clearly unjustified.”

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, Gabbard stated, “I have always, and will continue to advocate for the incredible officers who serve this community. I am dedicated to professionalism and community service, and cannot champion those values without also demanding accountability from those who do not meet my high expectations.

"My review of this incident revealed clear violations of department policy and actions that are not in line with our mission, our values or our training. To preserve the integrity of this department, to demonstrate my commitment to our values, and out of my responsibility to the officers and community I serve, I had no choice but to recommend to the Director of Public Safety the termination of Officer Casto’s employment with the Canton Police Department.”

Safety Director Andrea Perry has scheduled a pre-disciplinary termination hearing for Casto on June 21 at City Hall. The hearing is required under the city’s contract with the Canton Police Patrolmen’s Association whenever an officer appeals a disciplinary penalty and must be set at least 10 working days after the officer is notified. Casto has been on paid administrative leave since May 31.

The Repository has reached out to the patrolmen's association president for comment.

Gabbard’s recommendation follows a review by the department’s Bureau of Professional Development and its Office of Professional Standards that found Casto violated multiple department policies, including use of force, canine apprehension guidelines, preparation for deployment, use of force and departmental reports.

Videos show Canton police dog biting bystander

Casto, who has been with the Canton City Police Department since 2014, responded with Scooby to 16th Street NW on May 30 to help control a crowd of residents gathered in the streets and sidewalks as members of Canton's Coordinated Response Team, which is a special investigative unit, stopped a four-door sedan they said failed to use a turn signal when it pulled in front of a house to park.

The video released by Canton police shows a bystander signaling to Casto and Scooby as Casto talks with bystanders about their dogs. Scooby's rapid barking drowns out anything the bystander may have said.

Casto tells the man that he is under arrest for taunting the dog and three other police officers approach the man to handcuff him.

While handcuffing the bystander, the three officers and the man fall to the ground with two officers landing in a bush.

Casto then brings the leashed K-9 over to the man who is now lying face down with his wrists crossed behind his back, the video shows.

The three officers stand back as Scooby jumps toward the man and latches onto the man’s arm.

An officer repeatedly yells, “Stop resisting!” as the dog shakes its head aggressively.

Screams from bystanders could be heard in the background.

Officers said in their reports the man had continued to pull his hands away from them while his hands were behind his back.

The 43-year-old man has been charged with obstructing official business, resisting arrest, assaulting or harassing a police dog, disorderly conduct and sexual imposition. The last charge is from a 2022 case.

He has a preliminary hearing Monday in Canton Municipal Court regarding the charges related to the May 30 arrest. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for June 13 in municipal court regarding the 2022 case.

His attorney, Kenneth Abbarno of the DiCello Levitt law firm, said Friday that he supports the chief's recommendation to fire Casto. He also believes Casto should be charged criminally.

"If this were you, me or any other citizen who let this dog do what this dog did and have this dog attack somebody, I think we can all be pretty darn certain that we'd have charges against us," Abbarno said. "We're just asking for that officer to be treated like we would be and that charges be filed as well."

He said his client, who had been taken to a local hospital after being bitten on May 30, continues to recover physically and mentally.

"The emotional toll this has taken on him is unimaginable," Abbarno said. "... The reliving of this of every moment of every day is absolutely terrifying."

Abbarno's law firm also represents the families of James Williams, who was fatally shot by a city officer in 2022 as Williams was shooting a gun into the air to celebrate the New Year;Zachary Fornash, who was fatally shot by a city officer in December 2023; andFrank Tysonof Canton Township, who died April 18 while lying face down in handcuffs in Canton police custody.

Abbarno expressed hope that the chief's recommendation to fire Casto signifies the start of a cultural change for the Canton police department.

Urban League calls for "reimagined" Canton police department

The videos sparked outrage among residents, people on social media and community leaders.

Thomas West, president of the Greater Stark County Urban League, has called for a “reimagined” Canton City Police Department following the May 30 incident that he called a “disturbing attack,” “egregious abuse of power” and “malicious assault.”

“Enough is enough,” West wrote in a letter he gave Monday to the city’s safety director, prosecutor and council president. “We demand a reimagined police department where integrity and respect for fellow citizens and our city are paramount.”

Among the recommendations, West suggests that officers under investigation should not only be placed on leave, but their pay should be held in escrow until the investigation is complete and their vacation days should be used for their time off.

If they are cleared, their pay and vacation days can be restored, he wrote. He said the current practice of paid administrative leave, which is required under the city’s contract with its police unions, allows police officers to avoid consequences.

Residents who attended a Canton City Council meeting on Monday demanded accountability and police reform for what they say is the department's ongoing mistreatment of residents. They cited not only the May 30 incident but also the deaths of Tyson, Fornash and Williams.

The two officers involved in the death of Tyson remain on paid administrative leave while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation continues to investigate. Authorities still have not released a cause of death for Tyson.

Reach Canton Repository staff writer Kelli Weir at 330-580-8339 or kelli.weir@cantonrep.com.

Canton police chief says K-9 officer's use of force 'unjustified,' recommends he be fired (2024)

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