MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TX (KTRK) --There's a custody battle brewing in Montgomery County over a retiring K-9 officer.
The dog's former handler wants her friend back, but the Sheriff's Office has other plans.
Former Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy Lynise Marshall has fond memories of her K-9 partner Hap. Toward the end of her time with the department, she says she was investigated for misusing her county credit card buying stuff for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a charge that was dropped.
"I sign it, the paperwork, and I'm like, 'Great, when am I going to get Hap?'" she told us through tears. "They said, 'Well, you're not getting Hap.'"
She tells Eyewitness News allegations into a dirty patrol unit got her in trouble. She later resigned. That was in 2014.
"I felt very alone this whole time...because they kept telling me, 'It's just a dog. Get over it. And that dog is no different than the gun on your hip, he's just a tool.'"
She recently found out that Hap is heading into retirement. County Judge Craig Doyal tells us his current handler can't keep him because he doesn't get along with his new K-9 partner. Lynise tells us she's tried to get the Sheriff's Office to let her adopt him, but has gotten no response from the folks who make the decisions.
"I've tried to get answers. And when people start to say, 'Hey, I can't talk to you, I've been warned not to talk to you.' Other people tell you, 'We've been told we'll get fired if we talk to you or give you any info,' I had to do something," she says. "Then someone else who really should know was told they're talking about euthanizing him if they can't find a place."
So she started a petition on change.org to drum up support for her custody claim. As of the time of this story's original airing, it had close to 1,500 signatures. She will deliver the petition and the signatures to the Montgomery County Commissioners, Sheriff Tommy Gage, Captain Rand Henderson and County Judge Doyal.
She's hoping that support will convince them that Hap needs to be with her.
"I want Hap to be able to live out the rest of his days with someone that understands him, loves him, in a place he loves."
County Judge Doyal tells Eyewitness News Hap is going with a deputy currently employed with the department, and that it's the most reasonable decision.
"He needs to come home. He doesn't need to be shuffled around and confused yet again. He's an older dog."
Eyewitness News reached out to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, and on Tuesday, it issued the following statement:
"Lynise Marshall (Nichols), former employee with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, resigned in April 2015, while assigned to The Woodlands Patrol Division. Marshall held positions of civilian detention officer and patrol deputy until her resignation. Between February 2012 and October 2014 Marshall was assigned a K-9 partner (Hap). "Hap" was purchased in February 2012 primarily used as drug detection dog. "Hap" was 5 years old when he was purchased.
During an internal investigation concerning the misuse of county funds, initiated in October 2014, kennel and care conditions of the K-9 became a concern. Though Marshall was exonerated for the misuse of county funds the state of the K-9's hygiene and living area was inspected and found unacceptable and unsanitary. The K-9 was reassigned to another handler.
As the internal affairs investigation for misuse of county funds was concluding, Marshall took her patrol vehicle to Fleet Operations for service. Fleet operation managers noted that the vehicle was overdue for service by more than 2500 miles and was dirty and unkempt. Fleet personnel reported extreme filth and stench, so much so that mechanics did not want to enter the vehicle. A second investigation was initiated and allegations for failure to care of a county vehicle were sustained.
"Hap" remains a working drug detection dog for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. Though "Hap's" retirement has been discussed, no particular date has been determined for decommission. "Hap" has been with his current handler since October 2014 and has received excellent care and love. The Sheriff's Office cares about its employees, including its K-9 partners, and strives for their continued successes.
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Internal investigations are available for review through properly submitted Texas Open Records requests."