If you or I, assuming you’re not a member of the law enforcement community, were to leave our faithful family dog locked in hot car while we went into our houses, had a family dinner, and slept, only to find Fifo dead from the overwhelming summer heat hours later—we could face between one and five years in prison and be fined tens of thousands of dollars.
The public outcry could also ruin our lives, and, potentially, our careers. Who wants to employ someone who can’t even remember to let man’s best friend out of the car?
Police departments, apparently.
In early July, Baston, a seven-year-old German Shepherd and proud member of the Savannah State University police department, died after being forgotten in just such a manner. Reportedly left in a sweltering police car while his human partner brought food into his family and, his belly full, fell asleep.
Several hours later he remembered poor Baston, but it was too late. The windows were rolled up, and the engine was off. Attempts to resuscitate the overheated pup with an ice bath proved unsuccessful.
Ironically, Baston was “awarded” a bullet and stab proof vest for protection just months before his death, and the state of Georgia enacted a new law making it a felony to harm a police dog, at least if you’re a civilian.
Too bad the vest didn’t come with an air conditioner, or, better, a competent handler.
Repeated attempts by The Daily Beast to reach the Savannah State University PD requesting comment on the status of Baston’s handler have been met with weeks of silence or deflections, with calls being routed to various department voicemails, none of whom ever called back.
That was not an isolated response.
Last May in Hialeah, Florida, Officer Nelson Enriquez was suspended with pay after his K9 partners—Hector, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Jimmy, a 7-year-old bloodhound—both died when he forgot them overnight in his vehicle. Repeated calls to the Hialeah police department regarding the incident resulted in this reporter being stonewalled or transferred to another extension, at which point the call would be dropped.
Miami has a history of K9 abuse issues. In 2007, Sgt. Allen Cockfield killed his German Shepherd partner by kicking it. Then, in 2008, Officer Rondal Brown let his bloodhound starve to death. Both were charged with animal cruelty, but an expert familiar with the case speculated to the Miami Herald it would be “unusual” for Enriquez to face charges.
Last month in Conyers, Georgia, Zane, a five-year-old bloodhound and tracking K9 for the Conyers Police Department, died when forgotten by his handler overnight in a sealed up police vehicle while temperatures were reportedly in the 90s. The handler, Corporal Jerahmy Williams, was suspended with pay while an investigation was conducted, and there was talk initially about disciplinary action, although so far none is imminent.
“I can’t comment on an ongoing case,” Paul Stalcup, Rockdale County Assistant District Attorney, said when reached by The Daily Beast. “But there certainly have been no formal charges drawn as of yet.”
Repeated calls to the Conyers Police Department were unreturned.
Sad. Horrific, even. And there’s more.
In Gulf Shores, Alabama, Mason, the Gulf Shores PD’s community relations dog also succumbed to the heat when forgotten in a hot car by his human partner, Corporal Josh Coleman. After finally noticing that Mason wasn’t where he should be, Coleman discovered the dog in bad shape inside his oven-like patrol car and rushed him to a vet.
After a protracted fight for his life, Mason succumbed to respiratory failure.
The Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office decided not to bring any charges against Coleman, whose car wasn’t outfitted with the special heat alarms normal K9 cars have. Coleman is still on the force, and faced “internal sanctions,” though—despite repeated calls to Gulf Shores PD—what those may be could not be determined.
In contrast, 16-year-old Ivins Rosier was sentenced to 23 years in prison for killing a retired police dog during a burglary, a crime he committed when he was 16. Of course, Rosier isn’t a cop, he’s a young black man in the South.
And while negligent homicide, or even animal cruelty via negligence, is far different than intentionally firing a gun into an attacking dog, officers were still given the equivalent of a paid vacation to think about what they’d done. And the thin blue line has appeared to prevent press access to whatever “internal sanctions” they may be facing.
What does this lack of cooperation say about the state of our police? More frighteningly, what does it say that the people who are tasked with protecting and serving our public can’t even take care of their own animal partners?