Tensions between the Beaver County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Tony Guy continue to mount, with sources close to both sides telling the Beaver Countian they believe litigation is likely imminent. Attorneys for each party have been exchanging sharply worded letters, with the latest matter of contention being centered around the Sheriff’s K-9 Unit — the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Beaver Countian.
The Beaver Countian was in the courthouse on Friday challenging county officials about the continued delay in a response to an Open Records Request this publication made back on April 21st for public records pertaining to the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit. Among the records being sought by the Beaver Countian include any documents which would show ownership of dogs currently being utilized by the Sheriff’s Office, financial records pertaining to the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Fund, and copies of any contracts between the county and Bullocks K-9 North — a private company owned by Deputy Sgt. Richard Yonlisky who serves as a K-9 handler.
Although the county’s two-person law department was able to complete a search of its records within days, Beaver County Sheriff Tony Guy notified county officials he would need up to a month to issue a response to the same requests.
The Beaver Countian is attempting to get a formal response to its requests for public records before May 23rd, when a large K-9 Training and Certification seminar is scheduled to begin in Brady’s Run Park. A flyer from the American Working Dog’s Association (AWDA) lists the week-long event as being hosted by the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office, Bullocks K-9, and Bullocks K-9 North. Fees to attend the event are $135 per person, with the AWDA promising over 8 trainers and certifying officials on hand. The contact person for the event is listed as Deputy Sgt. Yonlisky.
In response to questioning by the Beaver Countian, County Commissioners said they had been unaware of the event, and research showed the AWDA did not make any reservations to use Brady’s Run Park, pay any fees for rentals, or obtain an agreement from the county to utilize the park for commercial purposes. Literature from previous years appear to show the AWDA used Beaver County’s Emergency Services Building in the park as its registration center for the seminars.
The American Working Dog’s Association shares a Greenville, NC, mailing address with Mike Bullock’s “Bullocks K-9” — a business associate of Deputy Sgt. Yonlisky and his “Bullocks K-9 North” company.
The Sheriff’s Office has said they will respond to the Beaver Countian’s request for public records about its K-9 Unit no later than May 27th, the final day of the week-long AWDA training seminar.
This publication is also seeking ownership information for the K-9s after sources claimed only one of three dogs utilized by the Sheriff’s Office is actually owned by the county. The Beaver Countian has independently verified that Beaver County Emergency Services obtained just one dog, handled by Deputy Corporal Joseph Osche, through the “Pennsylvania Region 13 Task Force.”
According to the Beaver Countian’s sources, the two dogs being handled by Deputies Richard Yonlisky and Jim Brown are both privately owned by them; officials say there are no agreements between those handlers and the County Commissioners outlining the use of the animals for official purposes. Under Pennsylvania law, only the Board of Commissioners has authority to enter into contracts binding the county. Without any documentation in place, it is unclear whether or not the county’s insurance carrier would cover any major incidents involving the use of the animals. Defense attorneys have speculated that without such agreements in place, any official actions using the K-9s may not hold muster in court.
Sources have alleged that the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Fund, which raises money from the public, has been operating with no oversight or accountability, and that items bought with the fund were being used for commercial purposes by some employees of the Sheriff’s Office. The county responded to an Open Records Request seeking any financial statements pertaining to donations or expenditures for the fund by stating “no such documents exist.” The Beaver Countian was unable to find a listing for the fund as being part of any outside nonprofit registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Officials say there are no agreements between the K-9 Fund and the County, and that there are no documents authorizing the use of the county’s name for fundraising purposes or outlining how publicly raised funds can be utilized.
Although Beaver County taxpayers have been fully funding the feeding, veterinary services, and training of the dogs, and paying Sheriff’s Deputies who handle the dogs an additional $3,650 each year on top of their regular salaries to provide daily care, sources for the Beaver Countian say Brown and Yonlisky have used the animals as part of their own profit making ventures. Among the private tasks the K-9s have allegedly been used for include Deputy Brown’s use of his dog Ciro to do drug sweeps of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in conjunction with private contracts for personal gain.
The Beaver Countian has been provided with both photographs and videos from sources which appear to bolster at least several of their claims.
While Sheriff Guy continues to stall the release of public records, he has been taking the opportunity to increase the K-9 Unit’s public profile and improve its image. A week after the Beaver Countian submitted its Open Records Requests seeking information about the propriety of his K-9 Division, the Sheriff sat with District Attorney David Lozier to be interviewed by KDKA AM Radio personality Rob Pratte, where he discussed issues involving narcotics and the “instrumental role” his K-9 Unit has played in the county.
Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier issued a letter on May 6th notifying Deputy Brown that he will be awarding Ciro a “Meritorious Service Award” on May 20th at a ceremony to be held at the Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial outside of the courthouse. Ciro is now scheduled to be retired from the department that same day.
A major fundraising event benefiting several K-9 funds has been newly announced for May 28th at Robert’s Roadside Inn that several county deputies are involved in. The event, sponsored by Miller Light, will feature “The Miller Light Girls” and a Beer Pong Tournament. Over 560 people have been invited to attend the event, which will also boast live musical performances by members of “The Delaneys.”
The Beaver Countian’s inquiries about the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, Sheriff Guy’s publicity campaign, the delays in the release of public records, and newly announced fundraising initiatives, all led Commissioner Sandie Egley to hold an unscheduled closed-door meeting with the Sheriff on Friday. County Solicitor Andrea Cantelmi sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Office shortly after that meeting, demanding Sheriff Guy cease using the dogs until a thorough investigation has been conducted (all three County Commissioners have said they ultimately want to see the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit disbanded). Sheriff’s Office Solicitor Mitchell Shahen sent back a late-evening response on Friday asking the Commissioners to explain how they have the authority to make such a demand.
County Commissioners and Sheriff Guy are now scheduled to hold a meeting along with their respective attorneys on Monday. Officials are set to discuss controversies with the K-9 Unit and the Sheriff’s hiring of four new full-time Deputies, which the Commissioners have refused to sign paperwork authorizing payment to. County officials tell the Beaver Countian that the Sheriff’s Office is already projected to run a quarter of a million dollars over budget this year based on current numbers. Commissioners say they intend to stand by their decision to not approve any new hires for the Sheriff’s Office and to demand all K-9 activities cease immediately.
The Beaver Countian continues to await Sheriff Tony Guy’ formal response to its Open Records Requests for public records pertaining to his office.