Trial over service dog flap delayed
LISBON – Whether a man and his service dog were actually mistreated by East Palestine police during the annual street fair will not be decided for another two months.
On Tuesday, Air Force veteran Eric Goempel and his court-appointed attorney Eric Kibler requested the trial be continued, and that request was granted despite Columbiana County Municipal Court Judge Mark Frost’s hesitation.
Kibler said Goempel wants more time to retain private counsel. Goempel met with Prosecuting Attorney Don Humphrey minutes before the scheduled court trial, and Humphrey said during the trial that he had no objections to waiving the speedy trial requirement and allowing for more time.
Goempel entered the courtroom with his service dog, who was attached by a lead to his belt and wearing a vest labeling it as a service dog for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The dog laid calmly beneath the table during the proceedings, which lasted only a matter of minutes.
Goempel is claiming he was mistreated by Police Chief Kevin Dickey and other officers while at the street fair with his son.
According to his account, on May 24 while walking through the fair with his service dog – who was wearing the vest identifying it as such – Goempel was approached by Dickey who said no dogs were allowed there.
Goempel became upset when Dickey reportedly wanted to ask him some questions privately in a nearby street, and then became even more upset when he and two other the officers began removing the dog from him.
Goempel said Dickey was legally only allowed to ask him two questions.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the only questions legally allowed to be asked are, is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
Service dog owners are not required to provide medical documentation or other paperwork, according to www.ada.gov.
Goempel has said he carries all of the necessary paperwork in a pouch on his belt, but he reportedly did not give it to the officers during the encounter, which ended with his dog being removed from him and he, the dog and his son being taken to the police station, where he was later charged with persistent disorderly conduct.
Witness Pam Figley has said Dickey asked repeatedly for paperwork showing it was indeed a service dog and that Goempel refused and became agitated, resorting to cursing and threatening police with a lawsuit.
Dickey and the officers involved, who were patrolmen Jordan Reynolds and Alex Pryor and Sgt. Don Johnson, were all in the courtroom Tuesday, alongside Village Manager Pete Monteleone, who was also involved in the encounter, and Village Solicitor Dave Powers.
Figley said Monteleone told Goempel to calm down and cooperate with the officers during the street fair incident.
The group was also accompanied in the courtroom by Councilwoman Endia Wisser and Diana Elzer, the wife of Councilman Don Elzer, who were there to show their support for the police department.
None of the village officials were called to the stand since Frost approved continuing the trial to Aug. 6, even though he said he did not condone its continuance.
Before making the decision, the judge told Goempel he had plenty of time before the Tuesday trial to retrain private counsel, but Humphrey countered that the review was set “very, very rapidly.”
Humphrey added he and Goempel have negotiated but have not come to a resolution at this point.
“It is not my intention to continue this case beyond August,” Frost cautioned Goempel. “This strikes me as a case that needs to be resolved.”
A status conference was set for 11 a.m. July 24, and until Goempel retains new counsel he will be represented by Kibler.