Months after dogs die in NJ official’s vehicle, state takes over investigation
The mystery of what led to the death of a Gloucester County K9 and another dog in the county fire marshal's vehicle took another turn with a change in the law enforcement agency leading the investigation.
K-9 Ember, who was in the care of fire marshal Shawn Layton, and Layton's own dog died on Aug. 12.
Republican Gloucester County Commissioner Chris Konawel told New Jersey 101.5 that Layton, a Democratic committeeman in Mantua, did not immediately report the dog's death. Instead, he waited a day before telling County Administrator Chad Bruner.
At a county commissioner's meeting on Sept. 9, Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office Chief of Detectives Tom Gilbert announced that an investigation into the deaths was underway.
New Jersey 101.5 has learned from two sources with knowledge of the investigation that the state Attorney General's Office took over the probe in November.
Spokesman Daniel Prochilo said it is the Attorney General's Office policy not to disclose which cases they are investigating.
Why would the Attorney General's Office take over a case?
It is rare but not impossible for the state Attorney General's Office to take over a case from a county prosecutor's office outside of a police shooting, former Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni told New Jersey 101.5
"The Attorney General's Office, they have the broadest investigatory powers. As the chief law enforcement agency in the state, they can pretty much come in on anything they want to. The reality is it doesn't happen all that much. And especially in cases like this, I have to tell you, I've never seen it," Gramiccioni said.
Gramiccioni, who now runs the law firm Kingston Coventry with his wife, former Superior Court Judge Deborah Gramiccioni, said a request for the Attorney General's office to take over a case would originate from the county prosecutor. The request, which is called a supersession, is made usually because of a potential conflict of interest but would be referred to another county.
Trying to find out what happened
Konawel said he continues to get thwarted in his attempt to get answers about the investigation and says he is told that he is in violation of rules when he brings it up during commissioner meetings.
"I hate to keep beating the same drum. It's amazing that a county commissioner can't get any answers on anything," Konawel said. "The answers I'm getting are that it's under investigation. Shawn Layton is still at work, he is still the fire marshal and still running scenes."
Among the unanswered questions about the dogs' death
Was Layton charged in connection with their deaths?
Since the investigation is ongoing, any charges will likely not be announced until its conclusion. Layton took personal time off from his position after the deaths of the dogs but is still the Gloucester County fire marshal.
Why did Layton wait to report the deaths and what were the circumstances?
The way the dogs died could have affected how quickly Layton was able to report their deaths. Unconfirmed reports said the dogs were left in the Chevrolet Tahoe but the air conditioner quit.
Why did Layton bury the dogs in his yard?
Joe Nicholas, a well-known trainer of K-9s who runs a business called Joe Nick Canine Training in Vineland, told commissioners during a meeting in October that he was responsible for the burial in Layton's backyard in Mantua.
Nicholas said that when he arrived at Layton's Mantua home, Layton was too distraught to speak. The burial site for both dogs was complete with a memorial fire hydrant.
"I took the dogs out of the car. I know what happened. I covered the dogs up. I had someone to go get me a backhoe and dig a hole because I wanted that boy to stop suffering," Nicholas said, referring to Layton's grief. "I wanted that boy to get up off the ground and stop crying. That was the only thing I could do to bring closure."
Investigators took the bodies of the dogs from the plot as part of their investigation.
Why did the Democratic-controlled Board of Commissioners not allow the death of the dogs to be discussed as an agenda item?
Konawel said he tried to get the death of Ember on the agenda in September but was thwarted. The deaths were brought up by residents during the public comment sections some wearing orange T-shirts that read "#JusticeforK-9Ember."