The race for Chester County Sheriff is going to the dogs.
Republican Roy Kofroth is trying to send his Democratic opponent, Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Dykes, to the doghouse rather than the Sheriff’s Office for his treatment of a Sheriff’s Office K-9, Deputy Zeeke and his role in ending the K-9 program that might have quickly caught escaped murderer Danilo Cavalcante.
Kofroth is out with a new internet ad featuring Zeeke, who, under Dykes’ watch, spent four months in a cage after being separated from his handler.
“Zeeke, a German Shepard, was part of the Chesco Sheriff’s K-9 unit, and his specialty was drugs,” said Kofroth, who was a deputy.
“Deputy Zeeke and his handler were separated. Zeeke was put in a kennel until he could be teamed up with a new handler. An email was sent out for two handler positions, so I applied for the job along with two other deputies. It was my understanding that one of us would be Zeeke’s handler.”
“Between 12 and 14 weeks later, I was called into the office, and it was explained to me that the Sheriff’s Office was not going in the direction it originally intended. Therefore, there would be no new dogs, and Zeeke was going to be shipped off. Soon after, Zeeke was gone from the kennel. I heard he went to a prison, but I do not know for certain,” said Kofroth. “This is when the demise of the K-9 unit began.”
This occurred under the management of Sheriff Fredda Maddox, now running for a position for Common Pleas judge and Dykes.
“Many do not understand the importance of the day to day interaction these types of dogs need,” said Kofroth. “They are working dogs that are full of energy and need to be moving and need companionship. It is important to them to be doing their duty, finding people, searching for narcotics and explosives and, in general, being with people. Not only is it their job, it is their life. To be imprisoned in a kennel for this amount of time is the worst thing that can happen to them. It is beyond cruel.”
“Who does that to any animal?” asked Barry DiLibero, Kofroth’s campaign manager. Zeeke was not a danger to anyone, said DiLibero. He was a highly trained law enforcement canine.
The lack of canines to track Cavalcante, who escaped from Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 and remained on the loose for two weeks, became an issue for residents who vented their frustration at community meetings and the Prison Board meeting. Ironically, a Border Patrol dog made the catch as agents moved in on the escaped killer.
Acting Warden Howard Holland said at one of those meetings, “If we had dogs, we would have gotten him that day.”
Kofroth said, “I consider it part of the intentional destruction of the K-9 and Fugitive Task Unit, which would have caught Cavalcante in a day.”
It’s also become a campaign issue as the Democrats who control Chester County seek re-election or election to other offices, and their GOP opponents paint them as incompetent.
Experts disagreed about the effectiveness of the Zeeke ad.
Charlie Gerow, CEO of Quantum Communications, said, “It’s difficult to tell a story in 15 seconds, but this one does it. It’s clear, emotional and effective. And it gives voters something to think about a down-ballot race.”
However, Jeff Jubelirer, vice president of Bellevue Communications, said, “Dogs can absolutely be effective, perhaps more so than human spokespeople. Almost everybody can relate to dogs, whether owning one or growing up with them. However, I am not sure I’ve ever seen a dog used as part of a negative campaign. With regard to this specific ad, I don’t believe it’s effective because there’s no context. I recognize, however, that it’s difficult to explain in merely 15 seconds.”
“The Sheriff’s Office does not comment on personnel matters. Therefore, I will not be providing any further information regarding this matter pertaining to K-9 Zeeke,” Dykes said when asked to comment.
Previously, Dykes had sued the county claiming racial discrimination after he was fired from his former position as chief of the county detectives by DA Deb Ryan. He settled that suit for $126,000.
Ryan, a Democrat, is running for Chester County Court of Common Pleas judgeships.