2 months, 2 dogs, 2 deaths: No answers about K9 who died in SUV
Two months after Gloucester County K-9 Ember and a dog belonging to Gloucester County fire marshal Shawn Layton died in a county vehicle, there are still no answers as to what led to their deaths.
Layton did not report the deaths until the next day but even then it was kept quiet. Commissioner Christopher Konawel, a Republican, said he heard from several residents about the deaths and asked the fire marshal's liaison about the matter in an email. Konawel said no one from the county responded to him and Democratic commissioners would not let the matter be put on the official meeting agenda.
After the matter was brought up at subsequent county commissioner meetings, attended by people who wore orange T-shirts that read #JusticeforK-9Ember, Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office Chief of Detectives Tom Gilbert at the Sept. 8 meeting said his office would investigate the deaths. He said nothing would be released until the investigation was complete.
The investigation is ongoing as of Wednesday, according to Gilbert, who would not disclose how much longer it would take to complete.
Mantua mayor defends fire marshal's character
Mantua Mayor Peter Scirrotto told New Jersey 101.5 that he defended Layton during the public session of the Sept. 21 meeting. There is no video of the meeting and the minutes are not yet available.
"Knowing Sean and knowing the character that he is, I just can't imagine him being negligent or something like that," Scirrotto said. "I've known him since he was a little kid and I know he loved those animals. He's just sick over it. I was just picking up for him."
Besides being friends, Scirrotto and Layton serve on the Mantua Township Council together.
Lack of answers creates more questions
Layton has not spoken publicly about the incident. After using personal time to take some time off, Konawel said the fire marshal is back on the job. Council attornies said that only if Layton is criminally charged with a crime can he be formally suspended or put on administrative leave.
"I wish the prosecutor's office would bring this to an end somehow. I don't know if Sean was told not to talk because it's under investigation but I just know he's hurt. He took it to heart and he loved those animals. Two months seems like a long time with an investigation," Scirrotto said.
Konawel is less forgiving and said people are looking for answers about the deaths.
"Nobody's really giving anything. We have uncovered quite a few conflicts of interest within the prosecutor's office. Not the prosecutor herself or the investigating officer per se, but other people within there. There's a lot of, we believe, potential conflicts of interest," Konawel said.
Konawel said that he and Assemblywoman Best Sawyer, also a Republican, wrote a letter to Attorney General Matt Platkin asking for that office to take over the case. The letter never got a response, according to the commissioner.
Despite the calls for an investigation to find out what happened to Ember and Layton's dog, Konawel said he feels bad for Layton and doesn't think he intended to hurt the animals. The issue for Konawel is the actions of Layton and those in county government after the dogs died.
"If something accidentally happens normally you're going to own up to it and move forward, not wait three and a half days and then go, 'we're not answering any questions, we're not telling you anything.' And then you find out that the dog was buried without even notifying the prosecutor," Konawel said.
"You find out that all these different things went on and the elected officials who were responsible for overseeing it say 'you don't get a chance to ask those questions.' Well, you do."
The New Jersey Globe reported Layton buried the dogs in his backyard complete with a memorial hydrant to honor them. The bodies have since been removed and turned over to the prosecutor's office.
Konawel said he has been asked by both Democrats and Republicans about what happened to the dogs.
"It's a tragedy, period. It's a tragedy. We all want the answers. We all want to know what the hell happened and let's move on. There's no reason to keep this, but for whatever reason, we can't get any answers from anybody," Konawel said.