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Whistleblower lawsuit alleges widespread wrongdoing, cruelty at Detroit Animal Control

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A former Detroit city employee says she was fired after reporting troubling conditions and wrongdoing at the city’s animal shelter.

In a whistleblower lawsuit filed last week,former animal control officer Brittany Roberts claims to have witnessed numerous violations of state law and department policies.

They include specific incidents of animals dying from lack of food and medical care, filthy conditions that made animals sick, and deliberate animal cruelty on the part of at least one animal control officer.

“They feed dogs food on top of their feces. They hold them in cages that are too small for the animal to turn around. And it’s absolutely inhumane,” says Tamara French, a Detroit attorney and animal advocate familiar with the lawsuit.

Roberts also accuses the department of faulty record-keeping, and failing “on a regular basis to scan dogs for microchips so that the animals could be identified and reunited with their owner prior to being euthanized.”

But Roberts claims that when she reported these and other violations, she was demeaned, harassed and eventually fired.

And when she requested her personnel file, Roberts says certain reports and documentation had been removed--as was evidence of a police internal affairs investigation into an incident where another animal control officer “dangled a small dog by its neck on a catch pole.”

Roberts is suing for violation of state whistleblower protections, wrongful termination, and violations of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. In addition to the city and police department, the suit names Animal Control director Harry Ward, the supervising Animal Control officer, and chief veterinarian as defendants.

City spokesman John Roach said in a statement that the city is reviewing the suit and would respond in court, adding: "The allegations in this lawsuit are deeply troubling and we take them very seriously. The city is committed to ensuring the humane treatment of all animals in the care of Animal Control.”

Roach noted that just last week, the city announced changes to some animal control policies, including moving it from police department back to health department oversight.

Detroit health department director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed pledged that a larger department overhaul is in the works. “We’re committed to making sure we have one of the best-run animal care facilities in the country, and we’re going to do what it takes to get there,” he said.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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