Chandler cop acquitted in animal cruelty case - East Valley Tribune: News

Chandler cop acquitted in animal cruelty case

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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2008 4:14 pm | Updated: 9:15 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Shouting and applause spilled out of a tiny Chandler courtroom on Friday as a veteran city police sergeant was acquitted on an animal cruelty charge in the death of his police dog.

VIDEO: Sgt. Tom Lovejoy talks to the media

Shouting and applause spilled out of a tiny Chandler courtroom on Friday as a veteran city police sergeant was acquitted on an animal cruelty charge in the death of his police dog.

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Sgt. Tom Lovejoy and his family passed around hugs and handshakes after Justice of the Peace Sam Goodman made his ruling, bringing an end to almost exactly one year of turmoil and uncertainty in their lives.

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“It’s over,” said Lovejoy’s wife, Carolynn, as they accepted congratulations from more than a dozen police officers who attended the trial. “It’s over.”

The judge’s ruling was confirmation of what Tom Lovejoy and his defense attorney, Robert Kavanagh, said all along — that forgetting the dog inside a hot car last August was a mistake, not a crime.

“You forgot,” Goodman told the sergeant before revealing his verdict in the packed San Tan Justice Court. “Everybody here heard that and I believe it.”

Maricopa County prosecutors accused Lovejoy of reckless animal cruelty, a misdemeanor, in the Aug. 11, 2007, death of his K-9 partner Bandit.

Lovejoy forgot to take Bandit out of his police vehicle after coming home that morning from an overnight off-duty job. He got very little sleep during the two previous days, and was juggling a number of family and work issues when he went inside his house.

The dog ended up stuck inside the vehicle for nearly 13 hours while temperatures outside peaked above 100 degrees.

When Lovejoy discovered the dog that night, the 5-year-old Belgian Malinois was long dead from heat stroke.

The judge assured Lovejoy that his busy and tiring schedule, which arguably caused him to forget about the dog, was not unusual.

“They’re just the everyday things of life.” Goodman said.

Prosecutor Lisa Aubuchon, a tough and high-ranking lawyer in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, spent the morning trying to show Lovejoy as a man distracted.

She painted a picture of him spending the day gabbing on his cell phone, shopping at the mall, napping at home and dining out, all while his police dog baked to death.

“Common sense” and training, she said, meant Lovejoy was well aware of the risk of forgetting his dog.

Kavanagh, however, made the case that the situation was more nuanced and complicated than that.

One of the people who took the stand was a Tempe psychologist who examined the facts of the case, talked to Lovejoy and determined he was suffering from circadian sleep disorder, a type of sleep deprivation.

Many police officers suffer from similar sleep disorders without knowing it, psychologist Stephen Carson said.

“They’re highly devoted to what they’re doing and it just creeps up on them,” Carson said. “It’s insidious.”

Some of the most compelling testimony of the daylong trial came when Shane Murphy, the sergeant’s 20-year-old stepson, talked about being inside the house when Lovejoy discovered Bandit dead outside.

“We heard what I can only describe as a wailing,” Murphy said. “It was terrible. All I could hear from Tom is, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. I forgot my dog.’”

One of Lovejoy’s young daughters came into the house also wailing. The family was in shock over the whole thing, Murphy said.

Lovejoy took the stand near the end of the day. He talked about being with the Chandler Police Department for 17 years, working his way up the ladder, and having a close bond with Bandit, whom he considered his partner.

He also recalled the hours before he left Bandit in the vehicle, how he fell back to sleep after being called out to search for a rape suspect, how he was feeling sick and how there were other demands on his time that day.

He said he knows he is the only one to blame for his own exhaustion and his dog’s death.

“I just took on too much,” Lovejoy said, “and I let things go, I was so tired, and my mind wasn’t working.”

After the trial, Lovejoy stood outside the courthouse, just across the street from police headquarters, with his arm around his wife.

He joked with reporters and lashed out against prosecutors and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated and arrested him after his own department cleared him of any crime.

He particularly hit hard against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who held a press event last September to publicize the arrest.

“He held me accountable for the charges,” Lovejoy said. “Now I think it’s safe to say it’s time for him to be held accountable.”

Arpaio’s office declined multiple requests to comment.

Aubuchon declined to comment following the trial. However, Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman with the county attorney’s office, said the agency had “no regrets in bringing this to court whatsoever.”

Had he been convicted, Lovejoy faced a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail.

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