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Should ousted officer get to keep police dog?

West Union officials will have certified trainer decide if Xena should retire or be reassigned to new handler

Sierra Fox, posing with West Union K-9 officer Xena, says she was forced to resign as the city’s only female police officer two months after she filed a civil rights complaint alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination by West Union Police Chief Paul Berthold. (Photo from the West Union Facebook page)
Sierra Fox, posing with West Union K-9 officer Xena, says she was forced to resign as the city’s only female police officer two months after she filed a civil rights complaint alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination by West Union Police Chief Paul Berthold. (Photo from the West Union Facebook page)

The West Union City Council unanimously approved the resignation of the city’s only female police officer, who says she was forced to quit as retaliation for complaints she filed about gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

But what to do with Xena, the police dog Officer Sierra Fox had handled in recent years, still is undecided.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” City Manager Nick McIntyre said Tuesday morning. “There are a lot of emotions right now.”

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West Union's only female police officer says she was forced to resign this week in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the department.

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It was standing room only at the council meeting Monday night, McIntyre said, and many attendees said they wanted the council to allow Fox to keep Xena.

“The consensus last night is they want us to give her the dog,” McIntyre said.

But K-9 officer programs are expensive, especially for a city of 2,300 people, with the initial investment in Xena being about $3,500, he said. Xena is a Dutch shepherd certified in drug detection, handler protection and tracking, according to a May 2019 Facebook post by the police department.

The council decided Fox will be required to turn in Xena by Friday. A certified trainer will evaluate the dog and make a recommendation on whether she can be reassigned to a new handler or should be retired, McIntyre said.

“If it’s retired, we’d definitely consider Sierra Fox (to adopt the dog),” he said.

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Fox, who had worked in the West Union Police Department since July 2015, has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging Police Chief Paul Bechtold treated her differently from male officers, denied her a women’s uniform, insulted her and called her vulgar names to other officers.

Two male police officers who used to work with Fox at the northeast Iowa department corroborated her statements, adding that Bechtold made sexual comments about Fox and told them to ignore her calls for emergency help because she probably was being “dramatic.”

McIntyre last week told Fox she could resign by noon April 12 or he would recommend her termination at Monday’s council meeting, according to an audio recording provided to The Gazette by Fox’s attorney, Katie Ervin Carlson.

McIntyre cited a half-dozen incidents since March 27 in which Fox is alleged to have broken department rules. Fox disputed the write-ups and says they all were recorded since the complained about Bechtold’s alleged behavior.

In her resignation letter, Fox asked for the city to let her keep Xena.

“K-9s do not typically change handlers, as such a change can cause stress and confusion, causing the dog to shut down and be forced to retire,” Fox wrote. “I worry this will happen if Xena is taken from my care as a result of my forced resignation.”

Amy Ford, a former female officer for Anamosa, won a $750,000 settlement from the city in February 2018 based on her complaints about sexist emails, bias in department purchases and retaliation.

• Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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