PROVINCETOWN — In his 20 weeks of state-standardized training at the Plymouth Police Academy, Sgt. Kevan Spoor, now a 14-year veteran of the Provincetown P.D., broke down doors. He shot dummies. He was yelled at; he yelled. He practiced arrests, investigations. He grappled hand to hand.
Small-town policing, on the other hand, can be less exhilarating. But last spring, Spoor walked onto MacMillan Pier and into a case that had all the makings of a great whodunit: dueling witnesses; glitching cameras; an alibi that was rough at best. Also, a tag team of officers searching for the truth and accusations of corruption within the ranks of law enforcement.
The mystery at the heart of it: did the poop on the pier belong to “Archie” the pit bull (whose name was scooped from a Facebook post but not confirmed by his owners)?
Spoor and Animal Control Officer RuthAnne Cowing said yes. But Matthew Shaffer, 42, of Dennis, Archie’s human, disagreed. In Orleans District Court on Feb. 26, he appealed the citation he received for violating town bylaw 13-2-7-3 (“no owner shall permit a dog to defecate upon public sidewalks … without immediately and permanently removing the excrement therefrom”) — and demanded a jury trial to clear his dog’s name.
Judge Charles Welch set the trial for Sept. 14. That date could well change. Massachusetts courts spent the summer and first months of fall severely limiting in-person hearings; jury trials, by definition, did not meet Covid regulations. Courthouses across the state have begun reopening to the public and to potential jurors, but only a pressing sliver of cases in high courts qualify under new orders. Clerks at the Orleans District Court confirmed that district-level proof of canine innocence does not meet any impending criteria.
But Archie and Shaffer will, eventually, go to trial. And when they do, their jurors will become privy to a saga that began just after 1:30 p.m. on April 16, 2020, when Officer Cowing was called to the scene of the crime.
According to her police report, Cowing was walking on Bradford Street when Ronnie Walker, an employee with the Provincetown Dept. of Public Works, told her that he had just witnessed two people allow their brown pit bull “to defecate on the sidewalk in front of the buoy bench, not picking up.”
Cowing made a beeline for the pier, where she conducted a thorough analysis. Her conclusion? That the mess was “freshly laid.” That, and the fact that only one dog, the brown pit bull, was in the immediate area assured Cowing she had the correct human culprits.
Cowing approached Shaffer and his companion, Laraine Harvey, who maintained their innocence from the start. The dog, they said, could simply not have done the deed. He had just defecated by the Chamber of Commerce, where Cowing could find ample evidence in a nearby trashcan. Cowing was framing them, Shaffer said. Harvey told Cowing that “she was a ‘blue blood’ and that she knew what this was really about.”
Cowing called for backup.
So arrived Sgt. Spoor on scene. Harvey and Shaffer greeted him with the charge that they’d been framed. “They were demanding that they be provided everyone’s name immediately,” he wrote, “and were furious of the accusation that their dog would have defecated.”
Spoor set out on a search for evidence. Video feeds at the harbormaster’s office seemed promising but, he wrote, “The cameras in the immediate area were not working.” One functioning camera showed Shaffer and Harvey walking, then Shaffer and Harvey arguing with Walker. But the footage was inconclusive as far as the dog’s doings.
Spoor issued Shaffer a citation anyway — as Shaffer and Harvey “continued to tell me how I was making a big mistake and they were going to sue the town and police department.”
Shaffer paid his $100 first-offense fine. Then, on May 26, he submitted a formal request for an in-court hearing. Neither he nor Harvey responded to requests for comment.