Judge rules police improperly gave away dog

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Marc Gerte plays with his 5-year-old Yellow Lab Jamie Lee last week. Gerte recently won a court battle alleging his dog was taken by the Naugatuck police and improperly given away. –JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — A Stratford man has been reunited with his beloved dog after a judge ordered the animal had been improperly given away by the Naugatuck police to a local business owner.

Marc F. Gerte, a home improvement contractor living at 859 East Broadway in Stratford, said he’s overjoyed at the return of his golden Labrador retriever named Jamie Lee, which months ago was taken from him by police and given to Jean Dobbin of Dobbin Management, a condominium property management firm.

In her written ruling awarding the dog back to Gerte, Judge Barbara Brazzel-Massaro criticized both Dobbin and the Naugatuck police for keeping the dog from Gerte.

“As she got in my lawyer’s SUV, she was so happy, literally ecstatic. She was crying, I was crying. It was heartbreaking,” Gerte said. “She hadn’t been brushed and she was 25 pounds overweight. It shows the care these police officers put my dog in.”

Gerte lost the dog in June when police found him intoxicated behind the KFC restaurant on Bridge Street and had him sent to a hospital.

When he went to the borough’s animal control facility the next day, he said, he was told the dog had been given to Dobbin. But when he tried to get the dog back, he said, police officers told him it would never be returned to him.

He contended at the time the officer who took the dog is a personal friend of the Dobbin family, and that Dobbin had several times asked to purchase the dog, but he rebuffed her offers.

Brazzel-Massaro, in her decision, suggests Dobbin purposely avoided Gerte as a way to keep the dog from him.

“Because she was well aware of the position of Gerte that he did not want to sell Jamie, she never directly contacted him to obtain any necessary records or a transfer of ownership to verify his alleged transfer of the dog,” she wrote.

“She was standing outside her office when I was searching for the dog and she never once said she had Jamie Lee,” Gerte said, adding Dobbin said nothing about having the dog even as she saw him post “lost dog” flyers.

Brazzel-Massaro noted in her decision that Dobbin attempted to prove she was the rightful owner of the dog based on having obtained a dog license.

However, the judge wrote, that documentation actually proved she was not the owner, since she had no paperwork or pedigree for Jamie Lee, and could not provide an accurate age or birth date for the dog.

“Additionally, these records demonstrate that the plaintiff began an attempt to create records after the plaintiff sought the return of his dog,” the judge wrote.

Dobbin’s attorney, Gregory M. Thomas, of the Derby-based firm Cohen & Thomas, did not return a call seeking comment.

Brazzel-Massaro criticized the police department for its handling of the situation.

“The officer failed to document what he did with the dog in the incident report or any other report with the police department in Naugatuck,” she wrote. “The efforts of the plaintiff to obtain information from the Naugatuck Police Department were thwarted by the lack of documentation by the department and the failure to follow any policy of the department to take possession of or provide temporary placement of the dog until the plaintiff is able to make a decision based on sound reasoning.”

Naugatuck Police Lt. Bryan Cammarata acknowledged the department may not have handled the situation in the right way.

“This was an unfortunate set of circumstances for everyone, including the pet, the pet owner and the person taking care of the pet,” he said. “We’re trying to do the right thing. We’re going to look at what the judge said, look at the judgment, look at our policies and how we do things, and learn from that.”

Gerte said he’s six months sober and trying to bounce back financially after spending money, and time he could have been working, fighting for his dog.

“Believe me, I was sitting on pins and needles. It was nuts. Six months of searching, going to court every other day, and living in the law library,” he said.

The return of Jamie Lee was a pre-judgment remedy, he said, adding he still needs to return to court and try to recoup his costs.

“I would have spent 10 times the amount just to get the dog back,” he said. “This dog’s love is just priceless.”