NOPD cop charged after K-9 dog fell down hospital elevator shaft
An NOPD officer whose police dog, Phantom, fell down an open elevator shaft and died while they worked a private detail, is scheduled for trial Friday on a charge of malfeasance in office.
Sgt. Randy Lewis, 47, elected to be tried by a judge, rather than a jury. He is facing up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine if Criminal District Court Judge Ben Willard finds him guilty as charged.
Around 9:30 p.m. on May 21, 2009, Lewis, a former supervisor in the NOPD's K-9 unit, allegedly took his police dog on a private detail, sweeping the shuttered Charity Hospital for vagrants who'd taken up residence there. The dog fell from the 17th floor into an open, partially flooded elevator shaft.
The dog's body was recovered the following day.
Though Lewis was working a private detail, he allegedly claimed on a police incident report that he was on duty and involved in a training exercise. His attorney, Eric Hessler, claimed the error was an innocent omission that does not amount to a crime.
Lewis was charged in April 2010, along with another K-9 Officer Jason Lewis. The latter, who is not related to Randy Lewis, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals after his Belgian Malinois,Primo, died from heat stroke after being left unattended in a patrol car.
Jason Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor animal cruelty count in September 2010 and received a six-month suspended sentence. He was also ordered to pay $11,500 in restitution for the dog and was fired from the department. A state appeals court reinstated him last May, saying it found no evidence that he was negligent.
But the deaths of the two dogs caused a public uproar, largely attributable to photographs released of the car upholstery that Primo, frantic, shredded while trying to escape from the car.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission investigated the pair of incidents and used the dog's death in the elevator to highlight abuse of the police detail system.
Rafael Goyeneche, the commission's president, noted at the time that K-9 dogs are considered to be their officers' partners, and he criticized Lewis for leaving Phantom at the bottom of the flooded elevator shaft until the next day.
"To leave him at the bottom of the pit strikes at the heart," he said after his investigation.
Hessler countered that the decision was made to retrieve the dog from the flooded shaft the following morning out of safety for the officers.
Lewis remains employed by the department on desk duty. His trial is scheduled to begin Friday morning.