Berkeley County police dog handler sues over pay

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCIV/AP) -- A pair of Berkeley County deputies have sued the county, saying it did not pay them for the time they spend taking care of their police dogs.

The officers are suing under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The suit says the law requires police departments to pay officers with police dogs for the time they take care of their animals.

Officer James Lamar Blakely filed the lawsuit in May, accusing the county of not paying him for overtime and worked holidays, in addition to the care of his dog.

Blakely has been with the county since 2001. Beginning in September 2008, the lawsuit says his duties also included "training, care, and boarding and handling of a canine."

It goes on to state in addition to officer Blakely's regular work hours, he "spent time in connection with the care of the canine's including feeding, watering, grooming, bathing, exercising, clean up after, training and bonding for which he was not compensated."

North Charleston Police Department and Charleston County Sheriff's Office both compensate their K-9 officers an agreed upon of 3.5 hours per week to their hours of work for which they are compensated each work period.

City of Charleston gives K-9 handlers an hour a day paid time to care for the dogs.

All three jurisdictions say pay for the food, vet bills, kennels and supplies for the handler, even cleaning supplies for the animals' areas in the handlers' homes.

The lawsuit alleges the county did not keep accurate records for tracking employee hours.

Marybeth Mullaney is a local attorney handling the case. She is affiliated with Jaffe Glenn Law Group based in Miami that specializes in Fair Labor Standards Act suits.

"The lawsuit is about recovering overtime and to make sure the officers were paid the overtime that they are owed and worked and that the records regarding their overtime were kept fairly and accurately," Mullaney said.

The lawsuit was filed as collective action. This allows other similar situated law enforcement officers who are also owed overtime to join the lawsuit if they so choose, she said.

Berkeley County attorney Nicole Scott Ewing says they do not comment on pending litigation.