Hours after losing a member of the Folcroft Police force, the department lost an alleged drug dealer. However, the man didn’t evade police in a way you might think.
He was set free by a Delaware County judge who believed the sudden death of one of the department’s K9 officers was not cause for delaying a hearing.
"It is mind-boggling," said Folcroft Police Chief Robert Ruskowski.
It was late Tuesday night when K9 Officer Umberto, an 8 year veteran of the police force, took ill and had to be put down by a local vet.
His partner and keeper, Cpl. Christopher Eiserman, was scheduled to testify on Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Dennis McKenzie, Jr. The 36-year-old from Sharon Hill, Pa. was arrested in January for possessing 150 grams of marijuana and later charged with intent to deliver, Ruskowski said.
Devastated by the loss of Umberto, Eiserman submitted paperwork asking for a continuance for the hearing, citing the death as extenuating circumstances. But the request was denied by Magisterial District Judge Horace Davis and the case dismissed because Eiserman, the arresting officer, was not present to testify.
"Continuances and waivers are a common thing in court. It’s just part of the system," Ruskowski said. "What about common courtesy and respect? Obviously he’s part of our force. He’s not just a dog."
Umberto, 12, came to the department in 2006 thanks to fundraising efforts by the residents and local businesses, Ruskowski said. "This community stepped up to the plate big time and it’s their loss too," he said.
Rukowski said the prosecutor on the case asked the judge for a continuance because of a death in Eiserman’s family, but the judge said that wasn’t a reason.
However, a short time later, Davis granted a continuance in another case where Eiserman was scheduled to testify. Like before, the prosecutor asked for the continuance, but this time another officer also spoke up saying the family member who died was the corporal's partner. After a pause, the judge issued a two-week continuance in that case, Ruskowski said.
"It’s crazy…The hypocrisy of it all," he said.
Frustrating the department most was that McKenzie, Jr. was set free, not on the merits of a case, but on a technicality.
"We weren't asking for preferential treatment," Ruskowski said.
NBC10 contacted Judge Davis to inquire why the continuance was not granted. He said he "had no comment on the case."
Ruskowski said the department asked the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office to issue a rearrest warrant in the case. Emily Harris, spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said the paperwork is in the process of being filed.
NBC10 reached out to McKenzie’s attorney for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.
Umberto was one of two K9 officers with the department. Ruskowski said it’s too early to say whether they will train and swear in another K9.