A drug dog donated to the Douglas County sheriff's department has sparked a FOX 5 I-Team investigation into a man's very public crusade.
Bremen resident Lance Dyer blames synthetic marijuana for the suicide of his teenage son. He promised to fund a special drug dog to help fight that growing crime.
But his failure to pay for that dog has also raised questions about a story Dyer has told for years.
The dog is a Springer Spaniel with a nose for the latest drug craze hitting America's youth. Synthetic pot.
FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis watched as Douglas County K9 officers put the new addition through his paces.
The dog was donated with much fanfare last November by Lance Dyer in the name of the Dakota Dyer Foundation.
"I like to think there's a certain poetic justice," Dyer told FOX 5 the day the dog arrived.
Since 14-year-old Dakota shot himself to death three years ago, his dad has lobbied across the country for tougher laws against the synthetic drugs he blames for his son's suicide.
The Dakota Dyer Foundation has done good work, helping provide special boxes to encourage people to trash prescription drugs. Dyer pushed law enforcement agencies to crack down on suppliers and sellers of synthetic pot, often called Spice.
In November, 2014 Lance Dyer agreed to pay Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania $8000 for a dog that could help authorities sniff out such new and dangerous drugs. Trainer John Brannon says those dogs usually sell for $9200, but he was convinced by authorities that Dyer's cause was just.
"So they all vouched for Lance Dyer?" asked Randy.
"Yes. Yes," Brannon said. "They said they had a good relationship with him and he was involved in the community with trying to eliminate the narcotics problem."
Brannon shipped the dog before he was paid any money.
"It was a lot of jumping through hoops to get it done quickly," he remembered.
Dyer and the dog got plenty of news coverage. But when it came time to pay the bill, the Dakota Dyer Foundation dropped off the radar. In December, 2014 Dyer texted Brannon the check "was mailed Tuesday."
But no check arrived and no explanation given. Douglas County deputies found themselves in the middle: a donated dog and a broken promise to pay.
"Trying to contact Lance or get him to talk to me or call me back became near impossible because he just wouldn't do it," said Lt. Mike Barnhill of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.
"He wouldn't return your calls?" asked Randy.
Lt. Barnhill offered to return the dog, but even though Shallow Creek Kennels is a family-run small business and can ill-afford to write off $8000, Brannon said keep him.
"And I don't think that's fair to the dog, the handler and or the community," he said.
Dyer had put together a GoFundMe account for the dog. The site shows $260 raised before it was shut down.
So the Fox 5 I-Team took a deeper look at Lance Dyer. We found lots of personal financial troubles over the years. Thousands of dollars in court judgments and bad check charges.
When Dyer wouldn't respond to our email, we drove out to his house.
"With your track record in the courthouse, are you the right guy to be handling other people's money?" Randy asked. "Probably not, Randy," admitted Dyer. "But I'm doing the best that I can do."
Dyer claims he never said how long it would take him to pay the $8000 for the dog. He admits the Dakota Dyer Foundation is not a charity, meaning donors can't take a tax write-off.
But one month before our visit to his house he told me by phone he was sending a big check for the dog, money a drug testing company had given the Foundation for helping market their devices in another state.
"You told me Lance that you were going to send him $5000 the next day and you did not." Randy reminded Dyer. "No, because we didn't have the check cleared," he answered.
The kennel finally got a check. But not for $5000. Instead, $2250.
"And if you want to sit down and look at this and do a... honest... and truthful interview, instead of this snapshot deal you're throwing together right here to make ratings for Channel Five. And I know you'll cut that. Then I'll be more than happy to." Dyer said.
We offered to sit down... but Dyer wanted to keep talking.
"What you're doing today is you've effectively destroyed anything I'll be able to do from now on."
"Because you haven't paid for this dog?" Randy asked.
"No, not because I haven't paid for the dog," said Dyer. "Because of the questions you've asked about my past."
Dyer and his family are solely in charge of the Foundation money, and up until recently did not have a bank account for the non-profit. He says he's kept cash donations on a table in his house, and his past money troubles should make no difference.
But don't try telling that to a certain Pennsylvania dog trainer.
"I think it's horrendous that he's doing this in the name of his son," said John Brannon.
And what about that suicide? Contrary to what Lance Dyer has spent years saying, both Bremen police and the Haralson County coroner say there's no evidence synthetic marijuana played a role in Dakota's death. They point to a handwritten suicide note that is sad... but lucid. A police report that indicates Dakota was told the day before he wasn't allowed to see his girl friend. And finally. a GBI crime lab report that says Dakota tested negative for Spice.
Dyer learned about those negative results two years ago... but still tells the story of how synthetic pot killed his son because he says the crime lab did not test for the right form of Spice, AM-2201. But a GBI spokesperson says Dakota tested negative for that form of synthetic marijuana, too.
Meanwhile, Douglas County deputies continue to work with their new drug dog.
When Dyer made the donation, it was under the condition they name the Springer Spaniel Dakota.
"Are you calling him Dakota right now?" asked Randy.
"No sir. We're calling him Big. That was his name when he first got here... was Big," said Lt. Barnhill. "We didn't want this dog to be known as Dakota and be something that Lance could possibly further his interest in by letting folks know that."
A sad ending all the way around. The truth can often be that way.