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Bosco, the city’s drug-detecting police dog, plays with a ball on Friday at the Renegar Animal Hospital, where he’s been boarded since McAlester Police Chief Jim Lyles suspended the police’s canine program in the wake of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the dog’s main handler, police officer Jeremy Busby.

Bosco, the McAlester police department’s drug-detecting dog, has a favorite red ball he likes to play with these days.

He doesn’t have much else to do, since McAlester Police Chief Jim Lyles ordered the suspension of the police’s canine program last week.

Lyles suspended the program after an attorney filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the dog’s primary handler, police officer Jeremy Busby.

Now, Busby’s attorney says it appears to him that suspending the canine program is an act of retaliation.

The lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City attorney James Moore alleges that the city failed to adequately compensate Busby for the many off-duty hours he’s spent caring for the dog.

Asked about the lawsuit last week, Lyles said “We’re going to suspend the use of the dog and Mr. Busby will go back to his patrol.”

Lyles said at the time the added expense of paying for the dog’s care has not been budgeted.

“I don’t think it’s worth the added expense to the program,” Lyles had said.

Busby’s lawyer said that the he doesn’t think the expense is a valid issue for a couple of reasons.

“First, the seizures made with the dog allow the city and county to also seize property, such as cars and houses that are used to traffic drugs,” Moore said. “The city gets part of the proceeds from these seizures and forfeitures, so the canine is actually a money maker for the city.”

In one case, reported by the News-Capital on Feb. 18, 2006, Bosco sniffed out 205 pounds of marijuana after police stopped a driver on the George Nigh Expressway. Police said then that the marijuana had a street value of $205,000.

Moore said the expense should be a moot point for another reason.

“The chief has stopped using the dog for the alleged reason that it costs the city overtime,” Moore said.

The lawyer said that Lyles had already changed Busby’s hours so Busby could take care of the dog during his regular 40 hours of work each week, instead of after his regular shift.

“Busby was told he was going to be released from patrol duties early each day so he would have time to take care of the dog without incurring overtime,” Moore said.

“Suspending the entire canine program appears to be retaliation since the change in hours means it will not cost the city any more than it did before the lawsuit,” he said.

“That kind of action can only hurt the department and the citizens,” said Moore.

Asked about the statements Moore had made, Lyles said he did not want to respond, for now.

“I don’t want to comment while it’s still pending,” he said.

Bosco had originally been acquired through a joint effort which included the McAlester Police Department, the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Department and the District 18 District Attorney’s office.

Busby had been assigned as his primary handler since 2005, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount, but says Busby’s job included caring for, training and transporting the canine.

Moore indicated that he’s not seeking an astronomical amount on Busby’s behalf.

He said in similar cases he’s represented, payment for an additional 365 hours a year has been the average.

That works out to an hour a day for the time that dog handlers spend caring for the dogs, feeding and training them and taking the canines to the veterinarian, Moore said.

He called Bosco “a very important law enforcement tool.”

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