Mesa pays $13k after police officers lose woman's dog

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A woman received $13,000 after police officers in Mesa lost her dog. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A woman received $13,000 after police officers in Mesa lost her dog. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Bennett said she often requires in-patient treatment for a mental disability and Dakota was her service dog. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Bennett said she often requires in-patient treatment for a mental disability and Dakota was her service dog. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A Valley woman with a mental disability says she is still “torn up” emotionally after Mesa police officers lost her dog.

The City of Mesa paid Dawn Bennett $13,000 in January to avoid any lawsuits related to the incident at a motel on Main Street, according to documents obtained by KTVK/KPHO.

"We would like to express our apologies for this incident which resulted in your dog, Dakota, being lost,” wrote the city in a letter accompanying the settlement check. “The Mesa Police Department undertook great efforts to locate Dakota. Many animal shelter shelters and dog rescue organizations were visited as well as searching the Salt River bed area."

Although the letter only mentioned the lost dog, the settlement also released the city from liability over any potential claims for unlawful arrest or personal injury, along with any claims against the three Mesa police officers involved, explained city spokesman Kevin Christopher.

Two officers remain under internal affairs investigations 11 months after the incident.

“I'm not about the money,” said Bennett by phone. “I just wanted my dog back, that's all.”

According to documents and interviews, police arrested Bennett at the EconoLodge Inn and Suites on suspicion of trespassing June 26, 2016 after a dispute with hotel management over payment. When Bennett was taken to jail for booking, officers took her dog, Dakota, to the Maricopa County Animal Shelter on Rio Salado Parkway.

According to Bennett’s claim, the officers arrived after normal business hours and turned the dog over to a woman in the shelter parking lot. Since then, no one has been able to find the dog.

“I was just torn up. I'm still torn up,” Bennett said.

The 58-year-old said she often requires in-patient treatment for a mental disability and Dakota was her service dog.

“She was able to help me find things in my house like my keys, remind me to call the bank to check on money. Remind me to pay the rent. Things like that. It's almost like she talked to me,” said Bennett. “I know it sounds crazy, but she did.”

Bennett requested $12,500 from the city: $10,000 for “pain and suffering, loss of consortium and no closure [for the loss] of my beloved dog, Dakota” and an additional $2,500 for the dog and its special training. The city agreed to pay her $13,000 after securing additional liability releases. The 58-year-old represented herself in the negotiations.

“It is really uncommon for cities to pay out anything, typically, but the smallest claims,” said Evan Bolick, an attorney with Rose Law Group who is not involved in the case.

“They typically treat [notices of claim] like an insurance adjuster treats a claim. They weigh their risk and then they determine whether it makes more sense to settle or go forward to court.”

For that reason, Bolick said the city may have gotten a bargain on the settlement amount.

However, there are questions about some aspects of Bennett’s claim, including the nature of the dog’s “special training.”

“She was trained with Scottsdale police,” said Bennett in an interview with KTVK/KPHO. “They taught her French words because that's how their K-9s are taught.”

The Scottsdale Police Department confirmed it does not train personal dogs for civilians.

Bennett insists she has a doctor’s note indicating the dog provided service for a disability. If true, that would qualify the animal as a service dog as far as Maricopa County Animal Care and Control is concerned, said MCAC’s Mary Martin.

Ultimately, independent verification of the dog’s status may be impossible: neither the county nor the state keep lists of registered service dogs, Martin said.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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