BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Officer Kevin Smith was in small claims court Tuesday to fight the Town of Navassa from taking his pet.
According to the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, the town gave the Navassa Police Department K9, Luci, when Smith became the town's only K9 officer. The dog was donated by George Pyecha, a former Leland K-9 officer, under the stipulation Smith was the only handler and the full owner of the dog.
Pyecha found the dog on the side of the road and said it was "nearly dead" in court on Tuesday. He took Luci in and started training her for a few months and realized she would make the perfect police K-9.
Officer Smith was chosen to be the K-9 officer in Navassa, but things took a turn after an incident involving the mayor.
Smith arrested Navassa Town Mayor Eulis Willis for DWI in July 2011. He resigned from the department about a year later after the mayor allegedly made comments to indicate he was after Smith's job.
When Smith left, he asked to be compensated for his overtime work and accrued vacation time and took Luci with him. Town leaders were refusing to reimburse Smith until Luci was returned.
A number of former and current town council members testified on Tuesday, including the former police chief of Navassa. All of them said they understood the agreement to be that if Smith left the department, for any reason whether it be resignation or termination, Luci would go with him.
A judge in small claims court said Tuesday Smith can keep Luci.
The Town of Navassa will pay Smith a little more than $1,000 in overtime pay and compensate him for 48 days of accrued vacation time. The town administrator said the check is ready and Smith plans to pick it up Tuesday afternoon.
The town's attorney Norwood Blanchard told WECT.com that the town never tried to withhold Smith's paycheck, but according to a letter sent to Smith from town administrator it said they would withhold any money until Luci was returned.