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Officer reprimanded after duck incident

kenneth city In a case of "extreme poor judgment," a policewoman tested pepper spray.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 21, 2007


A female police officer accused of pepper spraying a Muscovy duck has been reprimanded.

Officer Venus Michaud, 35, admitted "testing" her can of Oleoresin Capsicum by spraying a short burst in the air while three to five Muscovy ducks were nearby, according to the Oct. 17 letter of reprimand. Close by was another Kenneth City employee, Lori Griffith. Michaud was in uniform and smoking a cigarette at the time.

"You offer no explanation of why you would carelessly dispense your can of Oleoresin Capsicum in the manner you did," acting police Chief Kevin Matson wrote. "Most fortunately, you did not appear to have caused Lori Griffin, yourself, or any Muscovy ducks any discomfort or injury. However, this is a violation of officer safety practices and good common sense."

Matson says in the letter that Michaud is being reprimanded for her "careless actions. This incident has caused embarrassment to the town, particularly the Police Department."

Matson ordered her to review the department's policies about smoking and use of the Oleoresin Capsicum, or pepper spray.

Matson could not be reached Friday afternoon for comment. But on Thursday, the acting chief said she could not be accused of animal abuse because "I don't have an injured duck. I can't do a cruelty to animals charge without a victim."

Michaud did not return a phone message asking for comment. She has worked for the Kenneth City Police Department since April 2004. She earns $37,696 a year.

Her attorney, Ken Afienko, said that he was pleased that the investigation "found that Officer Michaud did not ever spray any ducks." She was behind the department, he said, to test her pepper spray to see why it was not working.

Police first learned of the allegations that Michaud had pepper sprayed a duck on Sept. 11 when they received a letter from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The allegation concerning the police officer was repeated during a Sept. 12 council meeting. The department opened an investigation the next day.

Two Kenneth City residents, Kali Gillespie and Brenda Hott, said they saw the incident as they drove by the department. They alleged the officer laughed after deliberately spraying the ducks.

Griffith, the department's civilian support technician, said the incident happened Sept. 7.

"I was outside having a cigarette when Officer Michaud came out and had a cigarette with me," Griffith told the investigating officer. "There were about three ducks on the grass and Officer Michaud took out her pepper spray and sprayed into the air above the ducks. I asked her what was that she sprayed and she said it could burn their eyes. Nothing more was said."

Michaud told the investigator that she knew the ducks were just "standing around," not being aggressive.

Michaud said she squirted the pepper spray to test the can because it had not been working properly for a month before the duck incident. Michaud said she did not intend to harm the ducks and did not think any had been hurt. She also denied laughing.

Cpl. Brian Fey, the investigating officer, concluded that Michaud, "while smoking a cigarette, while on duty, in uniform and in direct and conspicuous view of the public, did discharge her (pepper spray) in what can be described as less than favorable or detrimental circumstances."

Fey also concluded that Michaud had placed herself and her fellow officers in danger when she did not replace her pepper spray after realizing it was malfunctioning.

"This is an example of extreme poor judgment," Fey wrote.

Later in the report, Fey stated that it was "impossible to accept Officer Michaud's explanation. It can therefore be concluded that Officer Michaud's recollection and/or explanation is at fault and/or misrepresented, making it impossible to reconcile with the established timeline of events."

[Last modified October 20, 2007, 23:22:03]

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