I-Team: Elite Department of Corrections’ K-9 Unit in Disarray Amid Sex Harassment, Discrimination Allegations

What to Know

  • For years, Donna Schnirring has been a K-9 trainer for the Department of Corrections' elite Emergency Services Unit
  • She says she was recently transferred out of the unit for a second time; the first was after filing a sex harassment complaint and lawsuit
  • DOC officials say they are strongly committed to diversity and equal opportunity employment and deny any retaliation against Schnirring

Several officers were transferred from the New York City Department of Corrections' elite K-9 unit last month amid allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, the I-Team has learned.

The I-Team report comes less than a day after an escaped inmate at Rikers had law enforcement scouring the island for hours, and insiders say that if not for the K-9 unit's disarray, the inmate might have been recaptured more quickly.

"It’s going to be much more dangerous for the officers and the inmates,” Donna Schnirring, a highly respected K-9 instructor in the elite Emergency Services Unit, told the I-Team before the inmate escape Wednesday. 

Schnirring is at the center of the K-9 unit turmoil, having filed a federal EEOC complaint and sued the Department of Corrections, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. She was recently transferred from the unit for a second time. 

In court papers, she claims she’s being retaliated against by DOC for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a male K-9 officer. 

“Here I am, the victim, coming forward with a sexual allegation and they were treating me like I was the problem,” she said. 

DOC says it’s standard policy to separate officers when harassment allegations are made. That may include transfers. Both officers were brought back to the K-9 unit in March, but Schnirring says she was told her training position was being re-classified. 

Months later, on June 9, several sources confirm there was a physical altercation in the canine unit trailer on Rikers Island. Ten officers, including Schnirring, were reassigned. She says she was home at the time of the fight. 

“I wasn’t even there. How do I get punished for something that I had no part of? No knowledge of. And not even be present for,” she said. 

Corrections officials say they are strongly committed to diversity and equal opportunity employment and deny that there has been any retaliation against Schnirring. 

As Schnirring’s legal case and federal EEOC complaint move forward, she wonders what will happen to her patrol dog, Bullet, which lives with her but is the property of the DOC. 

"The worst part of this is not knowing what they’re going to do to me or my dog," she said. "And potentially taking him … It’s very upsetting." 

A spokesman for the DOC told the I-Team the agency does not discuss specific personnel matters or security protocols, including the K-9 unit and how many dogs are in a given facility on any given day. 

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