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Canton police chief recommends K-9 officer be fired after police dog bites detained man

canton K9
Canton Police Department
Canton Police Officer Nicholas Casto's body camera captures K-9 as it appears to bite Kievin Conver during an arrest May 30, 2024.

Canton Police Chief John Gabbard is recommending the city fire K-9 Police Officer Nicholas Casto following the release of videos showing his K-9 apparently biting a man who was lying on the ground, with his hands behind his back, about to be arrested by multiple other officers.

“To preserve the integrity of this department, to demonstrate my commitment to our values, and out of my responsibility to the officers and community I serve, I had no choice but to recommend to the Director of Public Safety the termination of Officer Casto’s employment with the Canton Police Department,” Gabbard wrote in a statement released Friday.

Canton Mayor William Sherer and Director of Public Safety Andrea Perry did not respond to a request for comment.

Greater Stark County Urban League President and CEO Thomas West applauded Gabbard's decision.

"Ultimately, it is imperative that justice is served," West said. "Our community needs officers who adhere to the law and uphold its principles, rather than pursuing their own agendas. The Urban League stands with the Chief in upholding a police department that our community can be proud of and respect."

Earlier this week, the city released body camera video and officer reports describing a tense scene inn the 1100 block of 16th Street NW in Canton after cellphone video appeared on social media.

The incident began on May 30 after members of the Canton Police Department’s Coordinated Response Team, a specialized unit focused on intelligence gathering and violent crime, were following a car for unclear reasons.

“The vehicle in question failed to use their turn signal prior to pulling to the side of the road,” wrote one of the officers in an investigative report released by the department. “A traffic stop was conducted on the vehicle.”

The occupants initially got out of the vehicle — at least one of their family members was at the scene according to police reports — but were told to return to the car. Officers requested to search the vehicle. They refused. One officer saw an open liquor bottle in the back seat, and the occupants were told to exit the vehicle and detained.

“Around this time, a large crowd of the neighborhood began forming and yelling and acting disorderly,” wrote one of the officers. “We requested another car due to the crowd. People were beginning to surround us from both the north and south sides of the street, and spilling out into the street.”

Casto was among the officers who responded. His body camera footage shows him speaking to a man standing near his porch.

Several officers approached the bystander, Kieven Conver, and who was yelling at the officers, the video shows, and, according to police reports, refusing to go inside. Then at least two officers took Conver down to the ground.

Conver can be seen on the video lying face down on the ground with both hands behind his back as Casto continued to approach. The officers arresting Conver then stepped back and Casto allowed the K-9 to apparently bite the man on his lower back.

Casto eventually pulled the K-9 off Conver. The footage shows him using a small device to force the K-9 to release its bite. The other officers then finish the arrest and the footage ends.

Conver was charged with felony obstructing official business and misdemeanor assaulting a police dog, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

A second man, Michael Skillern, was arrested for, according to officer statements, approaching the area where Conver was being arrested in what appeared to the officers to be an attempt to interfere with the arrest. Skillern is facing felony assault and obstructing official business charges and misdemeanor resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges.

Both Skillern, Conver and the driver of the pulled-over car – Kyshawn Hawkins – have preliminary hearings in Stark County Court of Common Pleas on June 10.

Hawkins is facing felony weapons charges, along with charges of obstructing official business and a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge.

All three are being represented by the DiCello Levitt law firm.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.