by: Greg Suskin Updated:
PAGELAND, S.C. - A disabled veteran told Channel 9 she was humiliated and discriminated against when she couldn’t bring her service dog to a park in Pageland.
Carmen Lugo Martinez spent 27 years in the Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an intelligence officer. She was forced to take medical retirement after a back injury cut her military career short.
"It's still hard for me to talk about. A soldier doesn't want to talk about injuries, or disabilities. We want to keep serving our country," Lugo-Martinez said while talking to reporter Greg Suskin on Facetime from her home in Virginia.
She was in Pageland in early October to visit family. They went to a youth football game Oct. 3 at Conbraco Park. Lugo-Martinez brought Sidney, her 8-year-old yellow Lab and service dog. Sidyney helps her by retrieving things out of her reach.
Sidney was with her at the park but not wearing her working vest because Martinez wanted to give her a break from it. Service dogs are not required to wear vests at any time, according to a South Carolina advocacy group for the disabled.
There are signs posted in the park saying “No Pets.” Park Director Andre Singleton approached Martinez and wouldn’t let her in with the dog.
“We attempted to educate him, and it was a polite manner on our part, discussing with him, she’s a service dog, she’s not a typical dog,” Lugo-Martinez said.
Lugo-Martinez said Singleton made a comment that he didn't care and instead, called Pageland police, even after Lugo-Martinez said she could go to her car and get the service vest and ID for the dog.
The police report said, “She had a service dog with IDs and a military ID. Andre advised them they could not have the dog, (but) due to service dog, it was allowed to stay.”
But Martinez said that Pageland police humiliated her by asking her personal questions about the reasons she needed a service dog. She also said officers ran her driver’s license for no reason.
The action led her to file a complaint with the police department and town hall.
She said she only wants an apology, and to make sure police are aware of federal laws that protect service animals.
“I seek for other disabled persons to be treated fairly,” Lugo-Martinez said.
Channel 9 reached out to Singleton by phone and email for comment, but have not heard back.
Pageland town officials sent a response to the complaint:
"The town of Pageland is in receipt of a complaint against Pageland Police Department filed by the owner of a service dog. We will reserve public comment until the matter can be evaluated and then respond directly to the complainant."
Pageland Police Chief Craig Greenlee asaid he will look into the situation but couldn't comment on it.
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