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Officers file suit alleging wrongdoing in police dog training program

CARSON CITY – A Reno lawyer has filed a lawsuit against current Department of Public Safety Director Chris Perry that alleges he ruined the state’s police dog program by training canines to be “trick ponies” and falsely detect the presence of drugs on cues from handlers.

Lawyer Ken McKenna said Tuesday he filed the lawsuit in federal court in Reno. Perry, who oversees state law enforcement agencies, was formerly the chief of the Nevada Highway Patrol.

McKenna said he represents three “honest” police officers who want the canine program cleaned up and Perry immediately fired. By cueing dogs to falsely detect drugs, McKenna said Highway Patrol troopers could conduct illegal searches of vehicles.

“Perry destroyed the program,” McKenna said. “He intentionally committed crimes, whether out of jealousy, a power trip or other reasons. The dogs now cannot even detect drugs.”

Perry did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment . The governor’s office declined comment and referred the matter to the attorney general’s office. Representatives for the attorney general refused comment. Gov. Brian Sandoval hires and fires agency directors. The attorney general’s office serves as legal adviser to Perry’s department.

Perry, a former Las Vegan who graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He became the head of the Highway Patrol in 2006 after the previous chief was fired in the wake of sexual harassment complaints.

When he was appointed as Highway Patrol chief, Perry promised a higher ethical standard for troopers.

Bringing the lawsuit are current Highway Patrol officers Matt Moonin and Donn Yarnall and former Los Angeles police officer Erik Lee, who ran the state dog training program for two years before Perry replaced him.

The lawsuit also accuses Perry and other top Highway Patrol officers of violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

According to the lawsuit, former Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen sought to replace the existing K-9 program with one that would rank among the best in the country. He asked Perry, then head of the Highway Patrol, to create the new program. But Hafen was not satisfied with his work and assigned another officer to finish the program.

Perry, according to the lawsuit, told other officers he hated Hafen and was going to have to fix everything Hafen had messed up. After Hafen retired, Perry became public safety director and replaced Lee with a new dog trainer willing to train dogs to become “trick ponies,” according to the lawsuit.

McKenna said Moonin and Yarnell filed complaints with supervisors over illegal searches and the deficiencies in the new dog training program but were ignored. Yarnell and Moonin were removed as canine officers but remain with the Highway Patrol.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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