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Accused of killing dogs, suspended New Canaan K-9 officer fights town for workers’ comp, official says

NEW CANAAN — The suspended K-9 officer arrested twice in the past week on illegal explosives and animal cruelty charges is battling for workers’ compensation due to injuries he claimed occurred on the job, according to a state official.

New Canaan Officer David Rivera Jr. was charged after employees of his private Naugatuck training business, Black Rock Canines LLC, alerted state police and animal control officials to concerns about his use of explosives and handling of several dogs in his care, an arrest warrant said .

The clients for his side business as a police dog trainer included the city of Springfield, Mass., the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local police departments, according to attorney Robert Berke, who is representing Rivera’s business partner, Daniel Luna, who is also facing animal cruelty charges.

Rivera was first arrested on April 28 on charges related to the illegal storage and possession of explosives at his Stratford home. He was using the explosives to train numerous dogs at the Naugatuck property, court documents said.

He turned himself on Monday night to face a second set of charges in connection with allegations that he and Luna shot and killed dogs they felt couldn’t be trained and disposed of the animals on Black Rock Canines property, according to court documents.

Rivera was suspended last week from his job as a New Canaan police K-9 officer when town officials learned he was under investigation by local, state and federal agencies. His police K-9 Apollo was returned to the department and will continue his career in law enforcement, New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said.

But Krolikowski and other town officials have declined to answer questions about when Rivera last worked as a police officer or whether he is receiving workers’ compensation due to injuries he claimed he sustained on the job.

Employees of Black Rock Canines told investigators that Rivera was working at the business the past several months, including when several incidents occurred that led them to voice their concerns to state officials, the warrants said. The arrest warrant alleging Rivera improperly obtained and stored explosives indicated he wanted to transition to working full-time as a dog trainer.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission is reviewing two pending claims for Rivera that will be the subject of an informal hearing on May 16, said Richard Eighme, communications and legislative program manager for the commission.

One claim lists a back injury that occurred on March 12, 2021. The other claim is related to an ankle injury that occurred on Dec, 7, 2016, Eighteen said. As in most cases that come before the commission, there is no public record that indicates whether Rivera is receiving workers’ compensation for the two injuries, Eighteen said.

Claims only go to the commission if there is a problem or items that need to be negotiated between the employee and the workers’ compensation insurer, which is usually the employer, Eighme said.

During a meeting in February, the New Canaan Police Commission denied Rivera’s request for supplemental pay for the period from Dec. 3, 2021 to Feb. 6, 2022. Rivera was seeking the funds based on a stipulation in the New Canaan police contract that requires the town to compensate for the difference between an officer’s pay and what they are receiving for workers’ compensation if they are out of work due to an injury.

Rivera said he was also due to holiday, sick, vacation and retroactive pay from when the town and police renegotiated the contract.

But Commission Chair Paul Foley and former Town Attorney Chris Hodgson recommended the town withhold all payment because Rivera was denied workers’ compensation. Foley said there was no question that Rivera was injured, but he failed to attend required physical therapy several times.

One judge was willing to approve partial payment if Rivera underwent treatment, Foley said.

The three-member commission voted unanimously to deny Rivera the supplemental pay or any other pay he was owed for holidays, sick and vacation time or under the new contract.

Hearst Connecticut Media Group has filed a public records request for all documents related to Rivera’s employment, including any filed on his workers’ compensation claims, which were discussed during the Feb. 23 Police Commission meeting.

New town attorney Ira Bloom has declined to comment and said he was not aware of Rivera’s situation.

Rivera filed a lawsuit against the town in August, seeking unspecified damages on claims he was passed over for a position on the department’s Special Response Team because he was Hispanic. The attorney representing Rivera in the lawsuit filed documents April 29, seeking more time to provide evidence to the town in preparation of a trial.

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